Gregory D. Koblentz


On his book Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security

Cover Interview of November 22, 2009

In a nutshell

The proliferation of biological weapons—BW for short—to states or terrorists is one of the most pressing security issues of the twenty-first century.  At a time when the United States enjoys overwhelming conventional military superiority, biological weapons may be one of the more attractive means of waging asymmetric warfare by less powerful states hoping to challenge the status quo.

At the same time, the considerable overlap between the equipment, materials and knowledge required to develop biological weapons, conduct civilian biomedical research, and develop biological defenses creates a multiuse dilemma.  This dilemma limits the effectiveness of verification, hinders civilian oversight, and complicates threat assessments.  In addition, advances in the life sciences have the potential to heighten the lethality and availability of biological weapons.

My book, Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security, provides a comprehensive analysis of the unique challenges that biological weapons pose for international security from the perspectives of arms control, deterrence, civil-military relations, terrorism and intelligence.  To understand the strategic consequences of the proliferation of biological weapons, I draw on insights from theories of international relations and security studies.  The book uses case studies on the American, Soviet, Russian, South African, and Iraqi biological weapons programs to enhance our understanding of the special challenges posed by these weapons.

I also examine the aspirations of terrorist groups such as Aum Shinrikyo and Al-Qaeda to develop these weapons and the obstacles they have faced.  I argue that biological weapons will continue to threaten international security until defenses against such weapons are improved, governments can reliably detect biological weapon activities, the proliferation of materials and expertise is limited and international norms against the possession and use of biological weapons are strengthened.