The Biological Weapons Threat and Nonproliferation Options

A Survey of U.S. Decision Makers and Policy Shapers

Following Aum Shinrikyo’s 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo subway commuters, revelations about the USSR’s massive biological weapons program and Iraq’s germ warfare program in the 1990s, and the sending of anthrax-laced letters to prominent U.S. politicians and reporters in the fall of 2001, a considerable amount has been said and written about the threat of biological weapons proliferation and what should be done about it.  

Those who make and influence U.S. foreign and defense policy have been exposed to and at times participated in this discussion, but this survey constitutes the first systematic attempt to poll senior U.S. decision makers and policy shapers about the nature of the biological weapons threat and the policy options to address it. 

The first part of the survey described in this report poses several questions about the biological weapons threat, while the other segments of the survey ask the same individuals to stipulate whether governments should require the implementation of several nonproliferation tools, to rate the U.S. government’s performance on the bioweapons nonproliferation agenda, to prioritize biological weapons nonproliferation policy options, and to state a preference for a unilateral or multilateral approach to biological weapons nonproliferation.

Three groups of individuals received invitations to participate in the survey.  The first group consisted of senior members of the Executive Branch, from the deputy assistant level up to cabinet level in the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce and within the intelligence community, military services, and National Security Council.  The category of current senior officials also included senators and members of Congress serving in leadership posts and on committees that have jurisdiction on matters related to biological weapons proliferation, foreign policy, defense, and homeland security.   Former senior executive branch officials and legislators were the second group asked to participate in the survey.  Nongovernmental experts in nonproliferation, national and international security, and terrorism comprised the third survey group.   The survey period ran from 25 October to 15 November 2006.

The raw data from the survey is also available - 2006 Biological Weapons Threat and Nonproliferation Options Survey: Raw Data.

Amy E. Smithson