Along the Way: Expert says COVID-19 shows U.S. vulnerable to germ warfare
In the wake of America’s slow and uneven response to the COVID-19 pandemic, are we
at greater risk as a target of biological warfare?
The issue was posed recently during a virtual symposium hosted by the Garfield Center for Public Leadership at Hiram College by one of the speakers, Andrew Weber, a former assistant secretary of defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs.
Enemies of the United States are certainly encouraged by the Americans’ response and
may believe it shows United States as potentially vulnerable to biological warfare, Weber told the symposium, which connected those attending virtually via Zoom.
A career foreign service officer who was appointed assistant secretary during the
Obama Administration, Weber played a leading role in efforts to remove weapons-grade
uranium from Kazakhstan and Georgia and nuclear capable MiG-29 aircraft from Moldova, all left from the days when these countries were part of the Soviet Union. He also worked on destroying chemical weapons in Syria and Libya.
During his presentation, Weber showed a photo of what was once the world’s largest
biological weapons plant. It was built by the Soviet Union and housed in Kazakhstan, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time. The photo was of a 5,000-gallon, four-story high tank built to contain anthrax. He said Al Qaida had attempted to build a similar facility. He said North Korea is cultivating biological warfare agents including anthrax.
Japan, which has admitted using germ warfare during World War II against the Chinese,
was a victim of a biological warfare attack in 1995, Weber said. He was referring to the attack by a cult called Aum Shinrikyo, which released sarin, a deadly nerve gas, on the Tokyo Metro during rush hour. The sarin gas killed 11 people, severely injured 50, and caused temporary vision problems for nearly 1,000 others. The cult leaders were attempting to start a world war and fulfill their prophecy of the world’s end.
The United States should be working with its allies to create effective strategies to
combat biological warfare, Weber said.
The Hiram College symposium, “Contextualizing COVID: The Economic and Security
Implications of the Pandemic,” was one in a semi-annual series that the college’s James A. Garfield Center for Public Leadership has been hosting. Besides Weber, two other experts presented.
Dr. Gigi Kwik Gronvall, a chemist and Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for
Health Security and an Associate Professor in its Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, said if there is a silver lining in the pandemic, it relates to the rapid development of vaccines.
Like Weber, she is convinced that age of biological warfare has arrived and strategies to
more rapidly develop vaccines need to be established.
COVID-19, she said, has forced nations of the world to deploy their resources into
developing a vaccine to combat the virus. The drive is expected to produce positive results in months, sometime during the coming year.
“Usually, it takes 4 to 5 years to develop a vaccine,” she said. This augurs well for
nations being able to protect themselves in the event that biological warfare becomes more common, she said.
The drive to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 in the United States has parallel efforts
underway in Europe, China, India, and Russia, she said. Moderna, whose work on COVID-19 began under the auspices of the federal government, and Pfizer, which is cooperating with efforts in the United Kingdom, are the most likely candidates for developing a successful COVID-19 vaccine, she said.
Mark Schweitzer, senior vice president for research at the Federal Reserve Bank in
Cleveland, said that not surprisingly, the service sector of the economy, especially hospitality businesses like hotels and restaurants, have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. Hospitality, he said, has suffered the elimination of 50 percent of its jobs. Manufacturing, he said, has been hurt, but not nearly so much as the service industry where almost a third of those employed have lost their jobs.
He said the Fed’s policy of keeping interest rates low is helping the federal government
borrow to pay for expensive programs like the payroll protection loans that are being forgiven. He noted the stock market remains high despite the pandemic.
David Dix is a former publisher of the Record-Courier.