First problem with our defense against a BioWar – we don’t have one. None whatsoever.
We have some defenses against BioTerrorism, but none against a BioWar. Let me explain the difference.
Terrorism has as its goal disruption and fear. Terrorists can kill a lot of people, but they cannot destroy the country. They can attack with bombs (first assault on the WTC), planes (as they did on 9/11), guns (has happened several times) with dirty bombs (hasn’t happened yet) and some biological weapons (anthrax). However, terrorists do not have the capability (today) to destroy the US.
The purpose of War varies, but usually involves destruction of the enemy as a functioning entity. At least one country has the ability to completely destroy the US – Russia. They have a sufficient nuclear arsenal to wipe the US off the face of the Earth. China has the ability to destroy the entire Western Seaboard and perhaps a good portion of the middle of the country with nuclear weapons. Within the next few years, they will have the necessary weapons to destroy the entire country.
Today, the US is focused very heavily on Terrrorism, but seemingly not at all on War against the US. The operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could be considered wars by some, but neither country is a serious threat to survival of the US. After 9/11, it is understandable that considerable efforts were directed against Terrorism. However, one wonders if anyone is giving any thought to the possibility of War.
BioTerrorism focuses primarily on agents like anthrax and smallpox. Anthrax is easily obtainable, but difficult to distribute. It could be used in an attack, but might be foiled simply by an unpredicted wind. Smallpox is available to a few nation-states. It could be given to terrorists who might then release it. But what would be the point? The US has more vaccine than any other country. We would be the least affected in the world. In contrast, the Middle East would likely suffer enormous casualties. Overall, the types of biological agents available to terrorists are generally less useful to them than more conventional weapons.
I think one reason we do not discuss War against the US is due to the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Although Russia and China could wage War on the US with their nuclear weapons, they know that we would respond by destroying their countries. Thus, although they could inflict lethal damage on us, we would most assuredly return the favor. Therefore, most analysts believe nation-state war on the US is unlikely. The (potentially fatal) flaw in this analysis is the assumption that only nuclear weapons could destroy the US and that we would respond to an attack with lethal retribution. Neither of these is necessarily true.
With modern Gene Synthesis technology, it is possible to create a highly lethal, highly contagious synthetic virus which would be resistant to anti-virals and existing vaccines. It could be deployed in a 100 American cities at one time. And if influenza was the platform, it would be untraceable. Such a weapon would allow a nation-state to attack the US with a devastating weapon and escape retribution. So, what are our defenses against such a weapon?
Based on recent statements by Secretary of Health and Human Services Sebelius, not much.
From The Washington Times, December 2, 2009
“Today, we face a wider range of public health threats than ever before in our history,” she told the American Medical Association’s Congress on Health System Readiness. “It could be anthrax delivered in an envelope. It could be a dirty bomb set off in a subway car. It could be a new strain of flu that our bodies have no immunity to.”
Speaking to the AMA group in Washington, Mrs. Sebelius admitted the “challenges” involved in the government’s billion-dollar campaign to protect the population against the current pandemic, but she concentrated on obstacles beyond development of better vaccines. An old-fashioned egg-based method of vaccine production, among other matters, has slowed the ambitious program.
“We don’t just need 21st-century technology. We also need 21st-century financial, legal, and regulatory frameworks that create incentives for companies to build these advanced countermeasures.”
Being able to handle such threats, Mrs. Sebelius noted, “depends on the strength and numbers of our health care work force. It depends on whether we have enough hospital beds and working emergency rooms. It depends on our ability to coordinate across government agencies and how well we can execute a national response strategy on the local level.”
Note the emphasis on BioTerrorism, but no mention of BioWar. The idea that the US could be attacked by a Nation-State intent on destroying us does not seem to be considered. Note, also, the approach to defense. Apparently, we are going to provide “incentives” to vaccine manufacturers and hope for the best. Imagine if our nuclear weapons program were run the same way. Finally, note the emphasis on Consequence Management. In a BioTerrorist attack, having more hospital beds would helpful. In an all-out BioWar, if large numbers of people were exposed, large numbers of people would die. Earth movers for mass graves would be more useful than hospital beds in this event.
A real defense program against BioWar would involve setting specifications and paying for the construction of modern vaccine plants in the US. These would produce DNA vaccines, the fastest and most flexible vaccine technology, as well as cell-based vaccines. To buy time for vaccine production, it will be critical to restrict movement at the local, state and national level. This is unsupportable unless citizens are prepared to remain in their homes for extended periods of time. Hence, people must be told that they will be on the front lines in any BioWar and need to equip their homes for extended stays with food, medicine and other necessities. Stockpiles of food and other essential goods should stored in warehouses in every city. Finally, essential workers need to be fitted with personal protective equipment and taught how to use them.
Secretary Sebelius also said this:
A new system is needed, she said, “that is so dependable and comprehensive that it deters potential bioterrorism attacks and makes our enemies say: ‘It’s not worth the effort.’ “
I agree. But right now, we do not have such a system. And there is no indication that the US government understands how to build one.