Warfare existed since the dawn of the human race. It has evolved in the form of nuclear or even chemical weapons — a sword or rifle won’t work. Further, warfare has changed so much that we enter a new way — bio-warfare. It may seem surreal to some that we are now talking about bio-warfare. The reason being that such a concept may only appear in some sci-fi film. However, Covid-19 has exposed the world’s weakness in responding to the pandemic. Besides, the virus shows how easily millions of people become infected and tragically die with one or two people infected.
Ease of Transmission
We have seen the power of pandemics before like SARS or MERS. In comparison, Covid-19 dwarfs the other coronaviruses out there. By comparison:
- Covid-19: 4,152,670 cases (at the time of this writing)
- MERS: 2,519 cases
- SARS: 8,439 cases
Covid-19 has many more cases than either of its cousins. Also, let us have a look at the breakdown by country:
The picture lights up and shows Europe and the United States most hard hit by the virus. Now, there may be some discrepancies in reporting — not much we can do to convince Governments to report every case. Regardless, the picture gives us a glimpse that the world is very interconnected thanks to globalisation. At the same time, globalisation is weak and incentivises a survival mechanism.
Some tout the globalisation’s benefits, namely that we are interconnected. To some extent, this interconnection exists. Trade and commerce are interdependent on others, start with raw materials to manufacturing and final to end product sales — essential supply chain. Further, travel and similar industries allow for the blurring of any boundaries. Sounds rosy.
It sounds too rosy to be true. Fact is that several institutions have differing opinions. Too stringent Government may take away from humans’ rights, and that infringement could have some specific consequence. This infringement and limiting human rights can lead to individual competitiveness that leads to different societies or classes within a particular community to fight. This fighting leads to people wanting to fight and beat the virus. It’s only human nature.
Survival of the fittest
Because of Covid-19, it’s only natural that Darwin’s evolution theory lends credence to the fact that only the strongest will survive. The criteria of fitness largely depend on genetic material. And, it may also depend on our geographical location, among other factors like politics. As a result, citizens will move into a mode of survival and care for themselves only.
We have seen that PPE is a commodity that is bought and sold. There were situations where the export was blocked. In principle, the mere fact that PPE can cause war should be enough to talk about survival of the fittest. Imagine the situation where the PPE supply chain breaks down. And, the entire world can’t take care of the 7+ billion people on the planet.
Already, the mere fact that some may not receive PPE means that we enter the survival of the fittest zero-sum game. Either there is enough PPE to survive, or there is not enough and death. Now, it’s possible that even with PPE, there will be some deaths. However, the assumption is that PPE will save lives. Take the concept and make it one step further where viruses become weapons.
Two potential types of bio-warfare come to play — biochemical weapons and genetic engineering.
It’s not a faint image that someone could cook up some virus in a lab and inject someone with it. Or, someone could inject a couple of animals that roam around humans. Whether directly or indirectly, the weapon can appear out of the blue and have devastating consequences. Taking Covid-19 into account, some say that there was a bat, some say that this virus was cooked up in a Wuhan lab, and others have no idea.
There is likely no evidence that the disease was cooked up in a lab and spread to humans. Nonetheless, it’s entirely feasible that some doctor or some person can engineer such a virus and start a global pandemic. It may turn out to be a perfect crime. The ghost enemy that permeates society without any previous detection could lead to the perfect crime.
Now, that picture may seem rather innocent. But, we could even extend these biochemical weapons to biological terrorism. Terrorist organisations may find means to infect their victims with some viral or bacterial infection. Again, we can conclude the same point — it’s a ghost crime that is undetectable and can spread rapidly.
Now, genetic engineering, or the process of altering DNA, is another form of bio-warfare that can come out of this whole Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, genetic engineering is not something new. It is a scientific process that has been tested in the past. The problem is that someone may take the opportunity to engineer not only the virus but test human subjects.
Testing human subjects has specific ethical considerations. Now, imagine the situation where ethics goes out the window, and some future race is born. While that may seem far-reaching, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. There is a possibility that could take place and is a real threat.
The threat becomes even more real when we start talking about politics and adding a socio-economic layer to it. And, we look at who becomes the most influential human in the human race. It could be that human that lasts, reproduces and a new race is born that is unlike anything known before. Of course, this scenario sounds outlandish. It may be a bit of a sci-fi movie plot. Nonetheless, the concept or idea that a pandemic like Covid-19 could enable someone to put a dark twist on genetic engineering remains a real possibility and future thread.
Preparedness for the future
The question now becomes what was learned and how do we prepare for the future. Governments need to figure out the best way to handle such a pandemic. For example, a government may choose to remain open and allow for herd immunity. On the other hand, WHO argues that herd immunity may not be the recommended approach. But, how does that prepare for bio-warfare?
It doesn’t prepare us too much. The fact is that we can’t plan for some terrorist organisation or another country to inject a bunch of people with a virus. On the other hand, there may be some public health and defence policies that could allow for appropriate research and defence spending. Both research and defence spending enables countries to protect themselves.
The types of protections that countries may have include technology on border posts, more robust security, technology etc. Or, it could allow for more research and development coupled with a more massive army. Bottom line, governments must be ready to act and cope with this new age of warfare by having appropriate public policy and defence in place.
Covid-19 has opened a new frontier about the potential of bio-warfare on a larger scale. At the same time, the virus has shown that globalisation infrastructure is weak, and governments may not be ready to cope with biochemical weapons or genetic engineering. Finally, the government must take the appropriate action to adequate research and defend its citizens.