Biological weapons


biotechnological weapon or bioweapon: “Microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes; Weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict “(1).

Biological weapons are complex systems that disseminate disease-causing organisms or toxins to harm or kill humans, animals or plants. They generally consist of two parts – a weaponized agent and a delivery mechanism. In addition to strategic or tactical military applications, biological weapons can be used for political assassinations, the infection of livestock or agricultural produce to cause food shortages and economic loss, the creation of environmental catastrophes, and the introduction of widespread illness, fear and mistrust among the public (2).

Biological warfare is the intentional use of disease-causing micro-organisms or other entities that can replicate themselves (e.g. viruses, infectious nucleic acids and prions) against humans, animals or plants for hostile purposes. It may also involve the use of toxins: poisonous

substances produced by living organisms, including micro-organisms (e.g. botulinum

toxin), plants (e.g. ricin derived from castor beans) and animals (e.g. snake venom). If

they are utilized for warfare purpose, the synthetically manufactured counterparts of

these toxins are biological weapons. (OCHA)

Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of biological weapon. This

type of warfare is distinct from nuclear warfare and chemical warfare, which together

make up NBC, the military acronym for nuclear, biological, and chemical (warfare or

weapons), all of which are considered "weapons of mass destruction" (WMDs). None

of these fall under the term conventional weapons which are primarily effective due to

their destructive potential. Biological weapons may be employed in various ways to

gain a strategic or tactical advantage over the enemy, either by threats or by actual

deployments. Like some of the chemical weapons, biological weapons may also be

useful as area denial weapons. These agents may be lethal or non-lethal, and may be

targeted against a single individual, a group of people, or even an entire population.

They may be developed, acquired, stockpiled or deployed by nation states or by nonnational

groups. In the latter case, or if a nation-state uses it clandestinely, it may also

be considered bioterrorism. There is an overlap between BW and chemical warfare, as

the use of toxins produced by living organisms is considered under the provisions of

both the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Toxins and psychochemical weapons are often referred to as midspectrum agents.

Unlike bioweapons, these midspectrum agents do not reproduce in their host and are

typically characterized by shorter incubation periods.


  1. Biological Weapons Convention, Article I:

  2. The United Nations Office at Geneva - What are biological and Towin Weapons ?

See also “Biological Threat Agent”

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