In a recent report by the RAND Corporation, funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the National Defense Research Institute, researchers explored the potential for engineered pathogens to become instruments of warfare. Now that advanced and complex biotechnology has left the realm of science fiction, and become reality, analysts and experts are beginning to assume that nation-states and non-state groups will consider these technologies in their planning and strategic forecasts.
“Technological improvements, including messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines, the use of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gene sequences as a genetic engineering tool, and advances in BCI (brain-computer interfaces), may shift strategic calculations,” the report states. “The emergence of ever more countries with advanced biotechnology capabilities raises a new, more dynamic future for biotechnology at war.”
Historically, biological weapons were often dismissed by nation-states due to the high risk of collateral damage to their own forces. Pathogens have a nasty habit of moving around, and targeting enemies and allies alike. Moreover, nation-states have generally shied away from large-scale biological weapons, and focused their work on more precise targeting, such as assassinations. It should be noted that this isn’t a hard rule though. It is no secret that in the early-2000s, Al Qaeda was dabbling in the creation of large scale anthrax weapons, but due to Western intervention as well as the high resource cost, the terrorist group found it easier to simply rely on more traditional weaponry.
However, the landscape is changing. Advances in biotechnology, particularly in the field of engineered pathogens, are presenting new strategic opportunities and challenges in warfare. As artificial intelligence continues to develop and CRISPR technology becomes simpler and more cost effective, the report states that the idea of creating an engineered pathogen that targets specific individuals with certain genetic markers is quickly leaving the realm of science fiction.
It is also much easier to hide.