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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


German Biological Weapons

The First World War was a period of transition between the pre-modern and modern ages of warfare. The war saw cavalries but also trench warfare, the beginning of air and tank use, and multilateral involvement. Both France and Germany had active biological weapons programs during the war.

The German biological weapons program is best described as a sabotage program. Its aim was to undermine the enemy's economic capacity to wage war. The program appears to have been independent of civilian oversight and was undertaken despite the General Staff's position that biological warfare was illegal. Notwithstanding, there was widespread agreement that anti-human pathogens should not be developed. Consequently, the German program considered only anti-animal and anti-crop pathogens; there is no evidence that Germany attempted to infect humans with any type of biological agent. Germany's main targets were neutral nations that supplied the Allied Powers. The most extensive efforts were directed against the US (prior to its entry into World War I), although Argentina, Romania, Norway, and possibly Spain were also targeted.

Despite Germany's use of biological weapons during the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles- which specifically prohibited the use of chemical weapons-did not mention biological weapons. After WWI both Germany and France continued their biological weapons research and development, and many other nations began programs.

Although many foreign powers assumed that Germany had an active and advanced biological weapons program during the inter war years, this was not the case. Although Germany did pursue rearmament, despite prohibitions following World War I, German biological weapons efforts were sporadic at best. Indeed, Germany's offensive program may have been undertaken solely in response to suppositions that France and the USSR were interested in developing their own BW programs. The evidence suggests that Germany did not pursue formal biological weapons research during this period.

The biological weapons programs of the inter-war period continued throughout World War II. Among German intelligence had evaluated the Canadian, British, US, and Soviet programs, and were able to gain information on dissemination techniques after the fall of France in 1940. In addition, several Soviet deserters provided Germany with information about the Soviet program, leading Germany to conclude that the USSR had an advanced program that encompassed as many as eight facilities and test sites. Germany also believed that the USSR was experimenting with a number of agents, including those that cause anthrax, glanders, and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Similarly, Germany determined that the UK was working with anthrax, dysentery, glanders, and plague. German intelligence reports had also reached similar conclusions about Canadian research. Finally, Germany gained information about the US program in Edgewood Arsenal (Maryland) and Pine Bluff (Arkansas), indicating that anthrax and FMD, among others, were being studied and tested.

Despite these numerous intelligence reports, Hitler reaffirmed his opposition to biological warfare- even as a tool of retaliation. Instead, Hitler directed research towards defensive measures in the event of a BW attack by an Allied Power. The Nazis performed experiments on prisoners in their concentration camps. Prisoners were infected with Rickettsia prowazekii, Rickettsia mooseri, the Hepatitis A virus, and Plasmodia spp. Experiments were done primarily to aid in the development of preventive vaccines.



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