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Military use of disease-producing or poisonous agents, and the means for defending against such agents. Biological warfare agents include many bacteria, such as those which cause anthrax, brucellosis, and typhus; viruses that cause diseases such as equine encephalitis; fungi such as rice blast, cereal rust, wheat smut, and potato blight; and toxins such as botulinum and ricin that are extracted from living organisms. Biological warfare dates from ancient times when warring groups would try to poison enemy soldiers with rotting or diseased corpses, infect cattle and horses, or spread contagion through civilian populations. Following the horrors of World War I, a 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibited the use of biological agents in warfare; however, this did not prevent Japan from using them in China during World War II. During the Cold War the Soviet Union as well as the U.S. and its allies built huge stockpiles of biological agents. Both sides signed the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which prohibits the production, stockpiling, or development of biological weapons and requires the destruction of existing stockpiles, but the Soviets conducted a clandestine program until the 1990s. Biological weapons programs can be concealed easily, and the 1972 convention contains no provisions for inspection and reporting. As a result, many states have been suspected of developing biological warfare agents, and some modern armed forces have prepared defensive measures. These include battlefield sensors, protective garments and masks, sterilizing agents, and vaccines.
Variants of BIOLOGICAL WARFARE
biological warfare or germ warfare
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on biological warfare, visit Britannica.com.