Saturday, February 18, 2006

I creep across the land

Jonathan Tucker has a new book out on chemical weapons. Tucker is the author of the excellent Scourge, which concerns the eradication and possible rebirth of smallpox. Of the major classes of WMD, I had the hardest time with chemical weapons in my Unconvetional Weapons class. The language of chemistry is far less accessible (to me) than physics or biology, but this is probably personal bias. Since Tucker is writing it, I think I will have a better shot at understanding it.

Tucker's Scourge is among three books about disease and security that I would recommend.

Scourge, as I mentioned, concerns the eradication campaign against smallpox and the possibility of its return. It's a well written and short book. If you want to learn more about the disease that could wipe out 20% of humanity, this is a good place to start. We may overemphasize the danger of smallpox. The Congressional Research Service released a report in 2004 that ranked the most dangerous biological agents. The most dangerous? Glanders. Thanks to difficulty in acquiring and weaponizing smallpox, it is far down the list.

Germs, by Judith Miller and X and X is about biological weapons programs. The revelations about the Soviet program will shock you. The US stopped offensive biological weapons programs in the 1970s. Conspiracy theorists will scoff at this, but consider that a biological weapons program is not in the US interest. By disarming, the US could back the Biological Weapons Convention and dissuade small powers from building programs. Biological weapons, unlike nuclear weapons, are inexpensive and easy to hide, and are attractive to poor countries. By eliminating them, the US could reduce threats to its security at limited cost to the US.

The threat of new programs is also discussed, and the book talks about the Iraqi program. When you see how much the Iraqis hid in the 1990s you will better understand why so many people thought Iraq still had a program in 2003. The book is slightly sensational, as it relies on possibly exaggerating sources and is written like a thriller. This makes it more fun to read of course.

Laurie Garrett's Coming Plague is the most comprehensive of the books. The book's thesis is that the global community's increasing encroachment on the tropical "disease zones" will lead to more and more emergent diseases. HIV/AIDS is just one of the possible threats from this phenomenon. This book is much longer than the others as it covers a wider variety of diseases. This book is not about how countries or groups could use disease as a weapon, but it is a security book in that these diseases are a threat to global and national security.

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