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Ethnic bioweapon

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An ethnic bioweapon (or a biogenetic weapon) is a hypothetical type of bioweapon which could preferentially target people of specific ethnicities or people with specific genotypes.


One of the first modern fictional discussions of ethnic weapons is in Robert A. Heinlein's 1942 novel Sixth Column (republished as The Day After Tomorrow), in which a race-specific radiation weapon is used against a so-called "Pan-Asian" invader.[citation needed]

Genetic weapons[edit]

In 1997, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen referred to the concept of an ethnic bioweapon as a possible risk.[1] In 1998, some biological weapon experts considered such a "genetic weapon" plausible, and believed the former Soviet Union had undertaken some research on the influence of various substances on human genes.[2]

In its 2000 policy paper Rebuilding America's Defenses, think-tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) described ethnic bioweapons as a "politically useful tool" that US adversaries could have incentives to develop and use.[3]

The possibility of a "genetic bomb" is presented in Vincent Sarich's and Frank Miele's book Race: The Reality of Human Differences, published in 2004. These authors view such weapons as technically feasible but not very likely to be used. (page 248 of paperback edition.)

In 2004, The Guardian reported that the British Medical Association (BMA) considered bioweapons designed to target certain ethnic groups as a possibility, and highlighted problems that advances in science for such things as "treatment to Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases could also be used for malign purposes".[4]

In 2005, the official view of the International Committee of the Red Cross was "The potential to target a particular ethnic group with a biological agent is probably not far off. These scenarios are not the product of the ICRC's imagination but have either occurred or been identified by countless independent and governmental experts."[5]

In May 2007, it was reported that the Russian government banned all exports of human biosamples.[6] The reason for the ban was allegedly a report by the head of FSB Nikolay Patrushev presented to Vladimir Putin. The report claimed about on-going development of "genetic bioweapons" targeting Russian population by Western institutions.[citation needed]

In 2008, the US government held a congressional committee, ‘Genetics and other human modification technologies: sensible international regulation or a new kind of arms race?’, during which it was discussed how “we can anticipate a world where rogue (and even not-so-rogue) states and non-state actors attempt to manipulate human genetics in ways that will horrify us”.[7]

In 2012, The Atlantic wrote that a specific virus that targets individuals with a specific DNA sequence is within possibility in the near future. The magazine put forward a hypothetical scenario of a virus which caused mild flu to the general population but deadly symptoms to the President of the United States. They cite advances in personalized gene therapy as evidence.[8]

In 2016, Foreign Policy magazine suggested the possibility of a virus used as an ethnic bioweapon that could sterilize a "genetically-related ethnic population."[9]


In 2017, a textbook published by the People's Liberation Army National Defence University called the Science of Military Strategy debuted the potential for biological warfare to include "specific ethnic genetic attacks."[10][11] The same year, former People's Liberation Army general Zhang Shibo authored a book that concluded that "modern biotechnology development is gradually showing strong signs characteristic of an offensive capability," including "specific ethnic genetic attacks" (特定种族基因攻击).[10] In 2020, a professor at the same PLA university spoke of the "huge war effectiveness" of a "targeted attack that destroys a race, or a specific group of people."[12][13] A 2021 study by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies stated that the Chinese government's interest in biological weapons is driven by a recognition of its own vulnerability to genetic targeting due to a broadly homogenous population with more than 90 percent being ethnic Han Chinese.[12] In October 2023, the Ministry of State Security publicly warned about the possibility of "genetic weapons...developed to kill targets of a predetermined race."[14]

Israeli "ethno-bomb" controversy[edit]

In November 1998, The Sunday Times reported that Israel was attempting to build an "ethno-bomb" containing a biological agent that could specifically target genetic traits present amongst Arab populations.[15] Wired News also reported the story,[16][17] as did Foreign Report.[18]

Microbiologists and geneticists were skeptical towards the scientific plausibility of such a biological agent.[19] The New York Post, describing the claims as "blood libel", reported that the likely source for the story was a work of science fiction by Israeli academic Doron Stanitsky. Stanitsky had sent his completely fictional work about such a weapon to Israeli newspapers two years before. The article also noted the views of genetic researchers who claimed the idea as "wholly fantastical", with others claiming that the weapon was theoretically possible but struggling to explain how exactly it could be accomplished.[20][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Cohen (1997-04-28). "Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and U.S. Strategy". Sam Nunn Policy Forum, University of Georgia. Archived from the original on 2004-11-18. Retrieved 2006-07-12.
  2. ^ Interview of Dr Christopher Davis, UK Defence Intelligence Staff Archived 2017-06-15 at the Wayback Machine, Plague War, Frontline, PBS, October 1998
  3. ^ "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century" (PDF). September 2000. Archived from the original on August 17, 2013. Retrieved May 30, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  4. ^ Adam, David (28 October 2004), "Could you make a genetically targeted weapon?", The Guardian, archived from the original on 19 April 2016, retrieved 14 December 2016
  5. ^ Preventing the use of biological and chemical weapons: 80 years on Archived 2012-05-10 at the Wayback Machine, Official Statement by Jacques Forster, vice-president of the ICRC, 10-06-2005
  6. ^ "Россия блюдет человеческий образец". Kommersant. 2007-05-29. Archived from the original on 2007-06-01. Retrieved 2007-05-29.
  7. ^ "Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality - The Badger". The Badger. 2018-05-08. Archived from the original on 2018-06-21. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  8. ^ Hessel, Andrew (2012), Hacking the President's DNA, The Atlantic, archived from the original on 2017-02-05, retrieved 2017-03-06
  9. ^ Brooks, Rosa (2016-03-15). "Can There Be War Without Soldiers?". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 2016-06-16. Retrieved 2016-06-15.
  10. ^ a b Kania, Elsa; Vorndick, Wilson (August 14, 2019). "Weaponizing Biotech: How China's Military Is Preparing for a 'New Domain of Warfare'". Defense One. Archived from the original on 2023-04-02. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  11. ^ Kania, Elsa; VornDick, Wilson (October 8, 2019). "China's Military Biotech Frontier: CRISPR, Military-Civil Fusion, and the New Revolution in Military Affairs". China Brief. Jamestown Foundation. Archived from the original on 2023-09-08. Retrieved 2023-10-25.
  12. ^ a b Warrick, Joby; Brown, Cate (September 21, 2023). "China's quest for human genetic data spurs fears of a DNA arms race". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2023-09-21. Retrieved 2023-09-22. A 2021 U.S. study by American weapons experts concluded that Beijing's interest in genetic weapons is driven partly by a perception that China would especially vulnerable if its adversaries develop the technology first. Compared with other countries — and especially the United States — China's population is broadly homogenous, with more than 90 percent of its people being ethnic Han Chinese.
  13. ^ "现代生命科技与未来战争_新闻中心_中国网". China Internet Information Center (in Chinese). Guangming Daily. March 22, 2020. Archived from the original on September 21, 2023. Retrieved 2023-09-22.
  14. ^ Brar, Aadil (2023-10-31). "China's spy agency warns about weaponized gene technology". Newsweek. Retrieved 2023-10-31.
  15. ^ Uzi Mahnaimi; Marie Colvin (1998-11-15). "Israel planning 'ethnic' bomb as Saddam caves in". The Sunday Times.
  16. ^ "Israel's Ethnic Weapon?". Wired News. 1998-11-16. Archived from the original on 2002-04-28.
  17. ^ James Ridgeway (1999-02-02). "Ethnic Warfare". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on 2008-06-11.
  18. ^ "UPI report". Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2006-11-13.
  19. ^ Stein, Jeff (3 December 1998). "Debunking the "ethno-bomb"". Salon. Archived from the original on 26 February 2017. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  20. ^ "Now Playing: A Blood Libel For The 21st Century". New York Post. 1998-11-22.
  21. ^ "Google Groups quoting Haaretz". groups.google.com. Archived from the original on 2023-07-02. Retrieved 2017-11-14.

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