[Table of Contents] [Chapter11]
The final decade of the twentieth century has positioned the world at the threshold of tremendous opportunity. The collapse of the Soviet Union has dissolved the bipolar world and created the opening to forge a new international security environment. The preeminence of politico-military competition is slowly giving way to politico-economic competition. As Shintaro Ishihara predicts, The twenty-first century will be a century of economic warfare.1
While military power remains important, its context and type are changing. The focus of many developing nations is to seek weapons of mass destruction (WMD)nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponsto meet regional security concerns. The parallel emergence of economic competition and its likely accompanying conflicts with the proliferation of WMD raises the possibility of a new form of warfare. This includes the development and use of biological warfare (BW) against economic targets.
Using BW to attack livestock, crops, or ecosystems offers an adversary the means to wage a potentially subtle yet devastating form of warfare, one which would impact the political, social, and economic sectors of a society and potentially of national survival itself.
FFor both developed and developing nations, nonfuel commodities present an important source of national security and prosperity. In the United States alone, the agricultural sector is an $800 billion industry. Besides providing for the nourishment of the US population and a significant portion of the world, agriculture generated approximately $67 billion in export revenues in 1991. This revenue represents approximately 15 percent of the total US exports for that particular year.2 Agricultural exports have been an important source for redressing the US trade deficit. Moreover, agriculture is now one of but a handful of sectors that generates a trade surplus for the US. In 1992 it created an estimated $18-billion surplus.3
Lesser developed and developing nations and other nations whose economies are in transition have significant agricultural sectors that provide important contributions of food and revenue to their economies. This observation is especially true of nonoil producing nations. Yet, even with productive agricultural systems, most if not all nations in the world are food importers.
Trends in agricultural systems, particularly food production, indicate that fewer numbers of people and hectares are involved in agricultural production. In developed market economies, the percentage of the economically active population in agriculture declined by 31.2 percent from 1980 to 1992.4 A similar, yet not as dramatic, decline was noted in developing countries, where the numbers of people involved in agriculture declined by 11.3 percent during the same period.5 Despite that decline, the overall agricultural productivity in both the developed and developing worlds increased by 45.3 percent and 25.2 percent respectively.6
This increase in productivity has resulted from the spread of modern farming technology, high-yield crop varieties, and potent fertilizers and pesticides. The goal of many developing and developed nations is to become self-sufficient in food and other agricultural products.7 Competition has become intense.
Efforts to remove trade-distorting domestic subsidies and limits to market access to agriculture were objectives of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs. Market access-limitation policies essentially maintain domestic prices above world prices and isolate domestic producers from competition and the volatility of the world market.8 While included on the Uruguay Rounds agenda, tremendous resistance was encountered from several important nations. The United States wanted to protect dairy products, sugar, cotton, and peanuts. Japan wanted to prevent rice imports. Despite efforts to settle differences on issues of market access, internal supports, and export competition, agreement on many items was not reached.
Part of the economic revolution in the world today is the explosion of biotechnology. Biotechnology has been a significant reason why agricultural systems are much more productive. As alluded to earlier, the development of higher-yield crops results partly from genetic recombinant engineering, which takes genes coded for greater productivity and resistance to disease and drought and inserts them into a particular species of crop.
Besides enhancing the productivity and heartiness of food or cash crops, methods of biological control are increasingly relied upon to provide an environment-friendly means of controlling economically significant pests and diseases. Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.). is a well-known example of a naturally occurring sporulated bacteria which effectively controls caterpillars, particularly tomato worms.
A variant of B.t., called B.t. israelensis or B.t.i., has shown its effectiveness in controlling malaria-bearing mosquitoes and blackflies which carry the parasite that causes river blindness.9 Efforts are now under way to insert the gene from B.t. into such plants as cotton. Initial research indicates that this procedure enables cotton plants to resist the boll weevil (anthonomus grandis). This particular pest caused an estimated $50-billion loss in US cotton revenues from 1909 to 1949.10
In Californias Imperial Valley the pink bollworm caterpillar has caused the amount of land planted with cotton to drop from 140,000 acres to only 7,000 during the past 17 years.11 Today US cotton farmers spend $500 million on pesticides.
Harmful bacteria, viruses, rickettsia, or toxins that incapacitate or kill humans, animals, or plants have an unsettling value in waging economic warfare. In 1925 Winston Churchill envisioned a context for BW when he wrote about pestilences methodically prepared and deliberately launched upon man and beast . . . Blight to destroy crops, Anthrax to slay horses and cattle . . . .12 This discussion narrows the definition of BW to consider only its utility against such economic targets as animals and plants.
Historical Context and Evolution
Investigators have argued that German agents intentionally infected horses and cattle with anthrax and glanders before they were shipped from the United States to Europe during World War I.13 During World War II, the United States, fearful of perceived efforts by both Japan and Germany to develop BW, engaged in a large and ambitious retaliatory offensive and defensive BW research and development effort. While never fielding or using a BW weapon, they did develop several BW agents, including rinderpest, glanders, wheat rust, rye rust, and rice blast to use against animals and plants.
Anecdotal reports suggest US officials had considered using rice blast agents to destroy Japans rice crop during the closing months of the war to force its surrender. The realization that the United States would have to supply food to Japan once the war ended and the availability of the atomic bomb, dissuaded US officials from pursuing this option.
In 1972, an international treaty, the Biological Warfare Convention, specifically prohibited the research, development, production, or use of biological agents for offensive use. While 162 countries have signed this treaty, no verification means are available to ensure compliance. Reportedly, up to 20 nations are suspected of pursuing offensive BW capabilities. Significant on the list are Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, North Korea, and Taiwan.14 No specific mention is made of any suspect nation seeking development of anti-animal/ anti-crop agents. Note that the United States during its offensive program first developed and fielded an anti-crop bomb. The United States discontinued its pursuit of several anti-agricultural agents in the mid-1950s since they lacked military utility.
Compared to other mass destruction weapons, biological wea- pons are cheap. A recent Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) report places the cost of a BW large arsenal as low as $10 million.
This estimated cost stands in stark contrast to a low-end estimate of $200 million for developing a single nuclear weapon. The high-end cost estimate for a nuclear weapons could be 10 to 50 times higher.15 Not only is BW more affordable, but militarily significant quantities of BW agents (kilograms) in legitimate biological laboratories make BW production easy to accomplish and conceal. Any nation with a moderately sophisticated pharmaceutical industry can do so.
Nature at Work: Whiteflies and Plausibility
Biological economic warfare likely would involve the intentional dispersion of a harmful agent or pest against a high-value cash crop or food source. The US Department of Agriculture recently identified 53 animal diseases which are nonindigenous or foreign, which, if introduced into this nation, would adversely impact the livestock industry.16 Recent naturally occurring events highlight this potential.
The Imperial Valley produces a large variety of food and produce. In the summer of 1991, an infestation by the sweet potato fly or whitefly destroyed much of the crops in this area and caused a $300-million loss. A related but different strain of whitefly caused $100 million in losses in southeastern California in 1981. The US agricultural system is a $800-billion industry. The Imperial Valley infestation represents a natural event where a harmful agent (whitefly) encountered a susceptible host (crops) in a conducive environment (the Imperial Valley). The investigation of this natural outbreak, however, reveals just how a deliberate act of BW economic warfare could be engineered.17
The poinsettia strain of the whitefly is not found naturally in California. In the circumstance of this outbreak, the whitefly could have accompanied a shipment of poinsettia plants from Florida. While the exact place the poinsettia strain originate remains a mystery, other similar strains originate in Russia, mainland Asia, and Africa.
In its natural habitat, the whitefly has a certain homeostatic existence. Balanced between natural conditions, competitors, pathogens, and predators, the impact it has on the environment is usually limited. When this fly or any other pest is placed in an environment where natural controls are missing, uncontrolled insect breeding may cause subsequent crop destruction. In the Imperial Valley circumstance, however, the culpable insect represented more than simply a pest translocated to new fertile fields. This particular type of whitefly was a distinct new strain. Its biological characteristics made it an effective agent of destruction. Its appetite was voracious. Unlike other known strains of whiteflies, this one consumed many times its body weight in vegetation and dined on a great variety of plants. Second, it had an unusual resistance to chemical and naturally occurring pesticides. DNA analysis of the genetic makeup showed a unique strain of this particular insect. Finally, besides its direct effects, the whitefly carried other harmful agents like fungus. Thus, it also inflicted disease on already weakened plants.
Naturally occurring genetic events of mutation and selection reasonably explain this occurrence. It is also possible that such insects could be bred for nefarious purposes. In the context of a deliberate act of BW, a nation could select from several native occurring or endemic pests. Selective management and breeding could develop a super pest. The selection of this pest could be highly specific for a particular crop that an economic competitor or regional adversary relies on for economic prosperity or national survival. To provide better cover for a clandestine or covert BW attack, pests endemic to the target nation could be similarly obtained and could enhance its resistance through such laboratory manipulation as nonindigenous pesticide exposure. Infiltrating and disseminating perpetrator insects is then dependent on the mode of transportation and the level of plausible denial desired.
The threat of this type of insect-borne BW attack on the United States remains theoretical. A recent OTA report on the United States addressed the threat from harmful nonindigenous species (NIS). The report indicated that the intentional (noncriminal) or unintentional importation of plants, animals, or microbes has major current and future economic consequences for US agriculture, forestry, fisheries, water use, utilities, and natural areas.
Importation of harmful nonindigenous species costs the United States billions of dollars annually.18 From 1906 to 1991, 79 NIS caused documented losses of $97 billion (Table 3). This table detailed only a small percentage of the large number of economically and environmentally costly agents, so their true impact is not known.
Table 3 Estimated Cumulative Losses to the US from Selected NonIndigenous Species, 19061991
($ millions, 1991)
*Excludes most agricultural weeds.
Source: M. Cochran, Non-Indigenous Species in the U.S. Economic Consequences, prepared for Office of Technology Assessment, March 1992.
US losses between 1987 and 1989 to the Russian wheat aphid (diurahis noxia), for example, exceeded $600 million.19 The Mediterranean fruit fly caused $897 million in damage and lost revenue. Each year $7.4 billion is spent on pesticide applications, with a significant amount spent on controlling NIS insects. Nonindigenous weeds, with both direct and indirect effects, caused a loss of somewhere between $3.6 and $5.4 billion per year. If herbicides were not used to control them, weed loss would hover around $19 billion yearly.
Another recent example cited in the OTA report described how NIS gain entry into the US. The Asian tiger fly (anopheles albopictus) mosquito does not naturally live in the US. It is normally found in Southeast Asia where it is the vector or carrier for the human diseases dengue and malaria.
In 1985 a freighter carrying containers of old tires imported this mosquito into the United States via the Port of New Orleans. This mosquito is an aggressive human biter and a prolific breeder. Because of its behavior, the Asian tiger fly poses a greater risk of endemic or naturally occurring mosquito-borne disease transmission. With no geographic barriers, the tiger fly has spread to 22 states and is creating a public health concern because of the increased occurrence of Western and Eastern equine encephalitis and the reemergence of dengue fever in the United States.
The impact and magnitude of the tiger fly will not result in billions or millions of dollars of lost productivity or tens of thousands or thousands of deaths. Clearly, the United States has a well-established public health system with surveillance, rapid identification, and management if an epidemic or outbreak occurs.
Nations of the third world, however, are not as fortunate and do not have an existing infrastructure nor adequate resources to mitigate the impact of similar events. This shortcoming was recognized in an epidemic of yellow fever in Nigeria in 1991. A shipment of used tires from Asia was implicated in the introduction of this insect.20 Similar modes of NIS infiltration have been described as a result of airline travel and flushing ballast tanks on ships.
A contemporary theoretical example of a third world BW economic scenario is represented by an actual situation in Malaysia, the worlds third largest producer of rubber behind Thailand and Indonesia. In 1991, it exported $971.9 million of natural rubber. Along with other Southeast Asia nations, Malaysia is trying to keep the South American leaf blight (microcyclus ulei) from affecting its rubber tree industry. This fungus was first detected in Brazil at the turn of the century and infects the stems of young trees and leaves and significantly decreases the output of sap.
No known cure for microcyclus exists. This blight is the main reason a viable rubber industry no longer exists in South America. The immediacy of airline travel, especially directly from Brazil to Malaysia, makes possible the unintentional entry of this fungus. Estimates by Malaysian Agricultural Department officials predict that should this fungus enter into its countrys rubber trees, it would decimate the trees within two years. Fighting off this fungus is considered vital to sustain Malaysias economic boom at its projected 78 percent growth rate.21
In the spring of 1993, an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease occurred in Italy. This contagious virus led to the destruction of 4,000 head of cattle. After authorities linked the source of this outbreak to a live cattle shipment from the former Yugoslavia, the European Community (EC) sparked a cow war when they banned bovine products from all 18 countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Bovine meat exports from eight East Europe countries (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and a portion of the former Soviet Union) totaled $103 million in 1991. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria reacted by banning the ECs own meat exports. Eastern European officials say EC markets remain almost as closed to them in 1993 as to their former communist regimes.22
While the governments of Eastern European countries have large agricultural infrastructures with the potential for large exports, they lack money and do not conform to the EUs common agricultural policy. The cow wars restrict their access to agricultural markets and economic capital which could finance greater economic and political reforms.
The reappearance of the screwworm along the Mexico-Texas border has worried US cattlemen. Its return resulted from importation of an infected herd from Central America in November 1992. Infection of US cattle would result in severe economic losses.23 This pest eats the flesh of cows, destroying their hides, and kills newborn calves. During the past four decades, over $400 million has been spent on US-Mexican screwworm eradication programs. A major concern created by lowering trade barriers during the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations was how this treaty would facilitate the spread of agricultural pests like the screwworm.
Thus, naturally occurring events where the agent, the susceptible host, and the environment converge can result in disease, economic loss, and national or international repercussions. No evidence indicates that any nation or group willfully caused the events cited. However, we may not be so lucky in the twenty-first century. It is all too possible to construct a scenario which would offer plausible denial and possible gain to a potential adversary.
Scenario One: Corn Futures
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that the 1994 corn harvest would plunge 31.4 percent from record summer rains and flooding. It was expected the cost of a bushel of corn would soar to three dollars. The February 1994 price of corn, the nations number one crop, was the highest in a decade.24 The resultant increase in cost increased operating expenses of companies that handle[d] everything from corn-based ethanol fuel to livestock.25
We are vulnerable in 1994 . . . right on the edge, said Keith Collins, acting assistant agriculture secretary for economics. The fall 1993 harvest was too small to supply both domestic processors and exporters. US stockpiles are expected to be at their lowest levels since the food scare of the mid-1970s. A slight acceleration in food inflation was expected in 1994. Food inflation in 1994 was estimated at between 3.3 percent and 3.5 percent, up from 2.2 percent in 1993 and 1.2 percent in 1992. This is the first time in about four years whereas food prices exceeded the general inflation rate.26
A corn crop short of the 8.4-billion-bushel estimate would signal a 4 percent food inflation rate in 1995.27 Some additional disasters such as a drought or loss of corn to blight, would do considerable economic damage to world food supplies.28 A 7.5-billion-bushel corn crop would push prices to four dollars a bushel. Such a surge would push inhibited exports and make hogs and cattle too expensive for many farmers to feed, eventually driving up meat prices.29
How could someone use biological agents to conduct economic warfare by ruining a competitors crop or product? Three more scenarios involving corn, wine, and cotton attacks can illustrate the potential BW threat.
Scenario Two: Corn Terrorism
A second scenario might go as follows. China is the worlds second largest corn exporter.30 Recognizing the vulnerable situation of the United States, China plans an act of agricultural terrorism. Selecting a corn seed blight, fusarium graminearum, which grows well at cool temperatures and in wet soil, they clandestinely spray this hearty spore over the US Midwest from commercial airliners flying the polar route to Chicago and Saint Louis. They disseminate the spore in winter and early spring, and the blight is present in the soil when spring planting occurs.
The United States, despite eliminating the corn set-aside requirements and planting more than 80 million acres of corn, suffers from a crop disaster. This unexpected Chinese-induced corn seed blight decimates the US corn crop. The fall harvest is a full 30 percent below expected levels. The United States then imports corn for the first time in its history to meet domestic needs. Food prices rise sharply and cause higher-than- expected food prices and inflation. China gains significant corn market share and tens of billions dollars of additional profits from their crop.
Scenario Three: Thats a Lousy Wine
The grape louse (phylloxera vastratrix) is ravaging the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties in Northern California. It is estimated that 6070 percent of the 68,000 vine acres are being destroyed. The louse does not affect the fruit of the vine but attacks the roots, which slowly kills the plant. It is difficult to detect, and once in place, it is a prolific breeder. The louse is carried by wind, water, and mud and, once discovered, is likely to have spread already to other areas.31
Infected vines may be treated by removing them and replanting them with louse-resistant plants. The estimated cost to the Napa-Sonoma wine industry will be about $1 billion or more over the next few years. The expected impact will be heavier on the more expensive Northern California wines, causing the disappearance of some labels.
A hypothetical scenario could consist of a group of disgruntled European winemakers who are jealous at the superior quality of Northern Californian wines and desirous of recapturing the wine market. Traveling as tourists, they slip into the United States with tins of paté which conceal millions of the offending louse. Traveling through the California wine country, they disperse their deadly cargo.
Scenario Four: Sabotaging Pakistans Cotton Crop
Pakistan is the worlds third-largest producer of cotton behind the United States and China. In 1991 the Pakistanis exported $420.4 million of raw cotton, some 36 percent of its primary commodity exports (excluding fuels) in 1991.32 If textiles, yarn, and other by-products are included, almost 60 percent of Pakistans exports depend on cotton.33 Due to an attack caused by an insect, the 1993 harvest will fall 15 percent below expected levels.
This crop loss will affect the countrys overall economic performance. Pakistan will produce only 10 million or so bales of the 12 million bales targeted. In 1993, Ahmed Muktar (the minister of state for commerce) said, This definitely would be detrimental to our economy, because the surplus ... would have added to our meager foreign exchange reserves.34 The immediate economic impact of the crop loss, however, may have longer-lasting effects. Cotton farmers, fearful of experiencing a similar disaster next year, are considering planting something else. Rice, wheat, and sugarcane, which are significantly less profitable (cotton is 43 times more profitable than all other crops), appear more attractive and safer than cotton.35 Restoring the confidence of farmers, who doubt their ability to generate profits from cotton, could become one of Pakistans toughest challenges.36
The open hostility between Pakistan and India is not hypothetical. They are competing against each other in an arms race involving nuclear and conventional weapons. The heavy reliance of Pakistan on a single export cash crop is not unusual in the developing world. The geographic proximity of Pakistan to its principal adversary allows a fairly easy route of infiltration and introduction of a pest against a high-value target like its cotton crop. The ability to inflict economic loss on Pakistan has repercussions that affect the private and commercial sectors, the military, and the society.
The current US focus on BW limits consideration to the human effects of such agents as anthrax, plague, and smallpox. Little or no effort seems to be devoted in assessing the vulnerabilities of the United States or any other nations agricultural or ecological infrastructures to BW attack. If the focus of international and regional competition is transitioning to economic power, it is prudent to assess the potential impact of this form of economic warfare, develop a comprehensive sur- veillance or monitoring system, and prepare countermeasures.
Developed countries with adequate economic reserves, agricultural diversity, and the means to mitigate such occurrences would be relatively resistant to such attack. Even developed countries, however, could experience significant economic losses and political and national security repercussions if other intervening events could make certain target commodities more vulnerable or magnify the impact of BW use.
Lesser developed or developing nations are in a much more precarious position. If the target commodity was a principal cash crop or food source, using BW may inflict a grave blow to that nations economy or society and possibly result in some political impact. History has recorded the chaos and instability created by such natural catastrophes as famines and epidemics. Using BW in this fashion would have applications to waging low-intensity warfare with strategic outcomes.
Recent public debate about the appropriateness of the US intelligence communitys collecting economically relevant intelligence did not mention the impact of BW proliferation on economies. Any open-source discussion about proliferation of biological weapons does not address its utility in waging economic warfare.
As in other forms of weapons proliferations, however, intelligence remains key. The foundation of intelligence assessment related to BW directed against economic targets is based on human intelligence. Collection activities must be focused on research and development efforts of adversarial nations in areas relating to endemic and nonendemic nonhuman diseases and pests. The means to assess any information collected requires a truly multidisciplinary effort involving veterinarians, ecologists, horticulturists, botanists, entomologists, and intelligence analysts.
While there is a requirement to assess what potential adversaries are doing in these areas, vulnerability and potential impact data must be collected on US systems. This effort requires a coordinated interagency process involving the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Commerce, and Treasury as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. Besides sensitizing the federal government to the potential problem, state and local governments should support this effort. State and local governments should be educated on the importance of reporting nonhuman outbreaks of disease or pests with economic significance.
Local and federal agencies should investigate reports of nonhuman outbreaks which occur in defined high-value commodities, involve potential BW or nonendemic agents, or inflict a certain threshold economic loss.
Similarly, some existing integrated governmental mechanism must be mobilized quickly to contain and mitigate the impact of a BW attack. The Federal Emergency Response Plan contains at least a theoretical structure to begin to address this problem.
The real and hypothetical examples cited highlight the opportunity offered by BW as a means to attack the agricultural infrastructure of an adversary. The existence of naturally occurring or endemic agricultural pests or diseases and outbreaks as described permit an adversary to use BW with plausible denial.
The impact of such events would go beyond simply affecting a nations economy to potentially affecting its national security. The United States gave up its antiagricultural biological weapons long before it unilaterally renounced the use and development of biological warfare in 1969.
The present concerns about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction appropriately recognize the threat posed by BW against our military and citizenry. The question is whether our government is aware of, or prepared to respond to, acts of BW? Is our intelligence community sensitized or tracking proliferants efforts to develop antiagriculture BW? Is there a mechanism whereby federal, state, and local agencies report and respond to acts affecting valuable economic resources or involving suspicious or nonendemic agents?
In the post-cold war era and as we enter the twenty-first century, the economy determines superpower status. The threat posed by biological weapons deserves prudent consideration.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the US Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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