Ultramicro, Nonlethal, and Reversible: Looking
Ahead to Military Biotechnology
After two world wars, the invention of nuclear
weapons, and the Cold War, our world is
undergoing a military revolution characterized by electronics, computers,
communications, and microinformation technology. In recent wars,
this progress has produced fewer casualties (both civilian and military),
and the desire to cause fewer casualties has become an important
factor restricting military operations.1
Biotechnology is developing quite rapidly and
has had an enormous effect on the progress of science and technology,
as well as on the global economy. In the eld of military affairs,
modern biotechnology maintains a rapid pace of development and plays
an important role in medical protection. However, it is gradually
revealing a character of aggression as well. Therefore, it is of
increasing military value.
Mainstream science and technology extend from
the land to the seas, air, and space. In an age that emphasizes
the command of information, we have begun to explore a new technological
space. Today, the modern biotechnology that focuses on the microcosmos
of the life structure can directly explore the main entity of war-human
beings themselves-thus taking precise control of the battle effectiveness
of enemies. As Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz said, "War
. . . is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to ful
ll our will."2 Clausewitz scholar
Wu Qiong adds, "Conceptually, to deprive the enemy of the power
of resistance is the real aim of war."3
Compared with wars in the past, war through
the command of biotechnology will guarantee the free application
and security of our own biotechnology and, ultimately, lead to success
through ultramicro, nonlethal, and reversible effects. Biotechnology
is likely to bring about profound changes in the military domain
and will contribute the utmost to the protection of civilization.
Possible Military Uses of Biotechnology
Modern biotechnology is now in full blossom.
Since the 1990s, half of the "Breakthroughs of the Year"
selected by Science magazine have been in the biotechnology and
life sciences elds. Such innovations (outlined below) are of great
medical value and can be of great value in military affairs as well.4
The Human Genome Project (HGP). The HGP explores
the new world of biotechnology, denes the microcosmos of life science,
and lifts medical research and practice to new levels, such as individualized
and ethnical medicine. It also provides possibilities for military
use. Revealing genetic structure, the structure-function relationship,
and the structure-health relationship can deepen the understanding
of how to control and change a human being's battle effectiveness.
Bioinformatics. The study of gene and protein
molecules is rapidly expanding to other domains. Those who master
more bioinformation faster will take the lead in military biotechnology
development and application.
Proteomics. From the perspective of military
medicine, proteomics, which examines the structure- function relationship
at the molecular level, is a bridge between military goals and practical
technologies. With the development of proteomics, we can discover
and interpret the key proteins in any single human physiological
function and the multiple physiological functions any single protein
possesses. All of this will provide accurate models for military
attack and make it possible to develop small-scale or ultramicro-scale
Transgenic technology. The new transgenic technology
currently has limited uses, but its idea of gene control and reconstitution
has possibilities for military use. The results from studies in
this domain will help the military set goals in command and control.
Besides the innovations listed above, many
other newly developed biotechnologies lend themselves to military
purposes; for example, DNA recombination, gene modication, gene
cloning, exogenous gene expression synergy, gene targeting, stem
cell technology, tissue engineering, and so on. These biotechnologies
will vastly enrich the military's ability to defend and attack.
Modern biotechnology has played an important
role in treatment of war injuries, prevention and diagnosis of diseases,
and protection against biochemical toxic agents; it will show its
advantages in strengthening the power to ght, resist fatigue, sense
and monitor the battlefield, and develop military biomaterials.5
We can use many modern biotechnologies directly as a means of defense
and attack, and with further development, they probably will become
new weapons systems. Such biotechnologies have the features discussed
in the following paragraphs:
Direct effects. Direct-effect weapons can be
used on human bodies to alter their biological features. Modern
biotechnology looks at life in a new way-at the molecular level.
Many unknown or unidentied substances of physiological activity
have been discovered, and the structure-function relationship of
biomacromolecules has been claried. As a result, we might soon
be able to design, control, reconstruct, and simulate molecules
in living beings. Methods to change and rebuild biological features
and biomolecule functions will soon appear in great number. Genome
and proteome technologies can accurately modify living tissues according
to precise procedures and conditions. Through the interaction of
proteins, we can modify cell functions as needed. In the nal analysis,
war is simply human behavior that forces enemies to lose the power
of resistance. Biotechnological weapons can cause destruction that
is both more powerful and more civilized than that caused by conventional
killing methods like gunpowder or nuclear weapons.
Reversible wounds. Modern biotechnology reveals
pathologies of products that can do great harm to people. It can
also provide effective ways to explore human health hazards. We
can also use this knowledge during war to damage and injure individuals
in a more accurate, effective fashion. We can choose military biotechnologies
with different pathogenic factors to achieve various military goals.
A military attack, therefore, might wound an enemy's genes, proteins,
cells, tissues, and organs, causing more damage than conventional
weapons could. However, such devastating, nonlethal effects will
require us to pacify the enemy through postwar reconstruction efforts
and hatred control.6
Multiple vulneration. Modern biotechnology
makes it possible to combine two or more pathogenic genes and place
them inside a susceptible living body to create a multiple-vulnerating
effect. In addition, delaying the time required for a causative
agent to take effect is possible by using a living body with a relatively
longer incubation period or a pathogenic living body that produces
no symptoms when inserted into the human body. When some other factor
activates the causative agents, a timed causation of disease or
pathopoiesis is possible. What is more, it is now possible to make
bioproducts that can target and destroy an enemy's armaments and
food and water sources. For example, rubber-invading compounds can
attack rubber goods exclusively.7
We can now hypothesize highly directional biotechnologies
as described in the following paragraph:
Organismic vector transfer. As the application
of viral vectors in gene therapy shows, the stable expression of
the exogenous virulence gene transfected to targeted people via
retrovirus, adenovirus, or an adenoassociated virus can cause disease
or injury.8 As transfection technology
develops, more viral vectors or other organismic vectors will be
found, which will enable vector transfer to be more suitable for
Directed-energy-induced mutation. High intensity
ultraviolet rays and electromagnetic waves can induce genetic-locus
cell mutation.9 If we determine the
relationship between the specic frequency, wavelength, or power
of the ray or wave and the specic gene or locus, we can cause injury
by remote, radiation-induced, genetic function changes.
Direct integration. University of Wisconsin
scientists have made exogenous, naked DNA and injected it into veins
for easy access into muscle cells for gene therapy. By combining
this knowledge and particle-gun technology, we could create a microbullet
out of a 1-_m tungsten or gold ion, on whose surface plasmid DNA
or naked DNA could be precipitated, and deliver the bullet via a
gunpowder explosion, electron transmission, or high-pressured gas
to penetrate the body surface.10 We
could then release DNA molecules to integrate with the host's cells
through blood circulation and cause disease or injury by controlling
The Superiority of Biotechnological Weapons
Biological tag-tracing, electromagnetic targeting,
and nanometer biological technologies can help build highly military-oriented
biotechniques. While it is perhaps too early to decide what form
modern biotechnological weapons might take, one thing is sure: all
such weapons require a military that focuses on information more
than on mechanization. In an environment where information is processed
rapidly, the battleeld is more transparent, positioning is more
accurate, and with the help of material science and nanometer technology,
we can nally make revolutionary breakthroughs.
How to turn modern biotechnology to make actual
weapons today is still not known, but with their capability of attacking
targets accurately and producing ultramicro, nonlethal, and reversible
damage, such weapons might nally change the methods of "physical
annihilation" or "destruction within the killing range"
which have characterized war since the invention of gunpowder. Humaneness
in the conduct of war has become the focus of attention recently,
and weapons of mass destruction are banned to reduce casualties.
The times call for new kinds of weapons, and modern biotechnology
can contribute such weapons, which might have the following vulnerating
Specicity of wounding. Precision injury is
an embodiment of specicity. HGP and proteomics have greatly enriched
bioinformation. If we acquire a target's genome and proteome information,
including those of ethnic groups or individuals, we could design
a vulnerating agent that attacks only key enemies without doing
any harm to ordinary people. We could also conne the attack to
a more precise level. Injuries might be limited to a specic gene
sequence or a specic protein structure. Through gene manipulation,
we can attack or injure one or more key human physiological functions
(the ability to learn, memorize, keep one's balance, or perform
ne motor activities and even act aggresively) without a threat
Ultramicro damage. When attacking an enemy
with biotechnological military weapons, we could choose targets
from a nucleotide sequence or protein structure. We could cause
physiological dysfunction by producing an ultramicro damaging effect
to a gene's or a protein's structure and functioning. Precision
injury and ultramicro damage are two vulnerating methods based on
genomics and proteomics. Because they target the primary structure
of the gene or protein, they are completely different from traditional
weapons of war that directly damage tissues and organs.
Crypticity. Although applications of military
biotechnology are complicated, the nished products are convenient
to carry, easy to use, and do not require large support systems.
Detecting and predicting their use is difcult. Only after obvious
wounding occurs will enemies realize they are under attack. In this
sense, using military biotechnology weapons is a good tactic.
Controllability and recoverability. Unlike
weapons that use ammunition whose damaging effects can only be ascertained
after shooting, we can test in a laboratory the degree of damage
biotechnological weapons produce. We can control the degree of injuries
and damage produced and even provide an antidote or a cure (a vaccine,
a countervulnerating agent, or a piece of bioinformation). Providing
such an anodyne to our enemies would represent real "mercy."
Difculty in taking precautions. Because of
the sheer number of living bodies military biotechnology can use,
the reformed (managed) gene order or protein structure is like a
specially made lock: Only the developer has the key, and it is difcult
for enemies to unlock. Because so many human genes and proteins
are vulnerable to attack in so many ways, denite diagnosis and
prompt treatment of injury is difcult. So, how and when can we
take precautions against attacks?
Biotechnological vs. Biological Weapons
Modern military biotechnology, which is biotechnology
applied in the military domain to produce weapons-like effects,
is fundamentally different from traditional biological weapons.
The confusion of the two concepts is not scientic and is not helpful
to the proper development of military biotechnology or the nal
elimination of traditional biological weapons.
Traditional biological weapons aim to produce
mass destruction. They reduce the enemy's ghting power by damaging
a large number of human beings, livestock, crops, and even the ecological
system. Biological weapons of mass destruction originated from the
idea that the more they kill and the ercer the disasters they produce,
the better they are. Technologically, traditional biological weapons
depend on microbiology, especially bacteriology, which uses destructive
bacteria, viruses, and toxic living bodies obtained directly from
the natural world. These weapons are subject to nature, are difcult
to control, and have irreversible effects. The use of such weapons
is opposed by most countries in the world.
In the 1970s, DNA recombination technology
symbolized the birth of modern biotechnology. As seen in the examples
mentioned, current military biotechnology possesses a quality of
"mercy," and its action, purpose of study, and specications
are totally different from traditional biological weapons. Modern
biotechnology will help rid the world of primitive forms of microorganisms,
biological agents and toxins; offer an alternative to biological
warfare; and, ultimately, help eliminate traditional biological
weapons. However, modern biotechnology has a long way to go, so
it is still necessary to regulate it in order to develop it in the
correct direction. The Chemical Weapons Convention or similar international
conventions must ensure military biotechnology is never abused or
Not Yet an Instrument of Military Power
Military biotechnology has not yet become an
instrument of military power. The laws, rules, and essential qualities
of modern biotechnology have not yet been claried. We cannot use
and control it at our will. Progress is still needed in supporting
areas such as military information technologies and material science.
Even so, the increased pace of development of modern biotechnology
tells us that the day on which we will begin to make full military
use of its advantages is not too far off.
We believe that command of military biotechnology
is a reasonable scientic presumption, not a scientic illusion.
In the near future, when military biotechnology is highly developed,
modern biotechnology will have a revolutionary inuence on the organization
of military power with its more direct effects on the main entity
of war-human beings. Modern biotechnology offers an enormous potential
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