Biological Warfare in Syria: The Silent Weapon

by christos10 on March 12, 2017 - 8:31pm

Biological Warfare in Syria: The Silent Weapon


Chemical and Biological agents have been developed as weapons since the beginning of time and first documented to be used in World War I.  With no way of detecting them they are one of the deadliest weapons.  To address the issue of biological warfare the international community developed the Geneva Convention. This protocol “prohibited the use of biological weapons, but it does not prohibit the development or possession of biological weapons “ (ref failure to investigate). This ‘loophole’ has allowed Countries to stockpile biological and chemical agents and simply claim they are being used for technology development. To address this the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) was created which states that Countries are responsible for the controlled use and access to these agents. A key problem is the enforcement of these regulations as there is no clear protocol on how to verify compliance.

The threat of biological warfare may not be from other countries as the world is the judge. However what prevents a country from using these weapons on its civilians in a civil war, were a number of these activities go undetected. Furthermore, as countries may closely regulate and protect facilities that have biological agents what happens when governments are over thrown and security is breached in these facilities? Such is believed to be the case in Syria.

Syria has one of the largest biological warfare programs known in the Middle East (ref  syrias silent weapons). “The biological warfare agents that are believed to have been developed by Syria include virulent pathogens, such as anthrax germs, and the lethal biological toxins botulinum and ricin. Western estimates suggest that Syria has significant quantities of these biological warfare agents, although the evidence for this is inconclusive. Syrian possession of the smallpox virus is likely” (ref silent weapons). However, the worlds suspicions were confirmed when on July 2012 Jihad Makdissi, Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, acknowledged Syria’s chemical and biological weapons programs on state television. Furthermore he threatened to use these weapons if other countries would get involved in their civil war : "No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used...unless Syria is exposed to external aggression.".  Thus it can be used as a political tool to control its people and prevent others from interfering in their affairs during a time of war. Equally, it can be used as a political tool as the country tries to rebuild and look for financial support. The newly formed government will need to be recognized internationally and further integrate into the world economy through foreign economic assistance.  One way to achieve this is to “renounce WMDs by conclusively terminating suspicious activities, eliminating existing stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons—as well as their materials.” The newly formed government can then sign treaties, such as the BWC, which was not previously signed by Syria and secure financial support.

Securing Syria’s biological weapons and preventing their looting, especially during their civil war, is critical to not only the health of the Syrian people, the first victims but also a global public health safety issue. Syria’s biological agents are believed to include zoonotic agents which can be transferred from animal to human (ref silent weapon), anti-crop biological agents, anti-animal biological agents and human diseases easily transmissible through water. These have been very well described in an article by Dando and Whitby. Therefore the damage may not only affect the people but also has the potential to devastate the economy of a country should its major crops or animal livestock be destroyed by disease. Furthermore, as the world is closely connected, the potential risk for spread by infected individuals, crops or animals is high. The impact on the environment can be devastating. We need to ensure public awareness of these threats through education and media. Furthermore our governments must update the Geneva Convention and instill tight regulation and penalties on nations that do not abide by the guidelines and regulations. Building awareness is a beginning however action must follow.

Since the civil war began in 2011 it is estimated that over 400,000 Syrians have been killed. If and when biological agents were used is not know and may never be known as the symptoms of these weapons may be a fever and since those that die are buried in mass graves the world may never know.










Considering what is know and speculated should Countries with Biological agent development programs allow for the United Nations to use military force to secure all sites and declare a neutral zone during times of war?

If yes then how does this infringe on the rights of the country to manage its own political issues and prevent interventions from foreign countries?

As Syria tries to rebuild a war devastated country should it receive international financial support considering the previous government had used chemical warfare agents and possible biological agents?

Then looking, more closely to our homes, should border rules be stricter? For example should we not allow people with colds from boarding planes?

How thin is the line were we protect ourselves and not infringe on our human rights?








Dando, Malcolm R; Whitby, Simon M, Autumn 1999 Technological Change and Biological Warfare vol. 1 issue 2, Centre for World Dialogue, Political Science--International Relations

Bellamy, Jill. Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online); Herzliya Vol. 18 Issue 2 p. 1-7. Summer 2014


Nikitin, Mary Beth D; Kerr, Paul K; Feickert, Andrew Current Politics and Economics of the Middle East; Hauppauge,  SYRIA'S CHEMICAL WEAPONS: ISSUES FOR CONGRESS*, Vol. 4 issue 3, 2013


Trinh, Son Q. Journal of Biosecurity, Biosafety and Biodefense Law; Berlin. What We've Got Here Is a Failure to Investigate: The Syrian Biological Weapons Threat Vol. 5 Issue 1. 2014


Taber, Caitlin. Arms Control Today; Washington. A History of Chemical and Biological Weapons Vol. 40 Issue 5. June 2010