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Working Paper “Asia-Pacific Perspective on Biological Weapons and Nuclear Deterrence in the Pandemic Era” presented to “The 75th Anniversary Nagasaki Nuclear-Pandemic Nexus Scenario Project” published

It is published simultaneously by RECNA-Nagasaki University, Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (APLN), and Nautilus Institute and is published under a 4.0 International Creative Commons License the terms of which are found here.

Asia-Pacific Perspective on Biological Weapons and Nuclear Deterrence in the Pandemic Era
Richard Pilch and Miles Pomper
A Working Paper presented to
The 75th Anniversary Nagasaki Nuclear-Pandemic Nexus Scenario Project

About the Authors

Richard Pilch is the Director of Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. A physician by training, Dr. Pilch has focused on national security issues since 9/11 and the “anthrax letter” attacks of 2001. In 2002, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in chemical and biological weapons nonproliferation at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, after which he spent nearly a decade overseas assessing and addressing biological warfare (BW), bioterrorism, and public health emergencies of international concern, including threats posed by the former Soviet Union’s (FSU) legacy offensive BW program. He has performed onsite assessments of every known civilian BW facility in Russia, led multiple threat reduction programs on behalf of the US government, served on over thirty technical panels and advisory boards, and authored more than sixty technical publications and White Papers. He co-edited the definitive Encyclopedia of Bioterrorism Defense (Wiley) with his long-time mentor and former CBWNP Director Dr. Ray Zilinskas in 2005. Dr. Pilch received his MD from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Miles Pomper is a Senior Fellow in the Washington DC office of CNS. He has written dozens of articles, papers, and book chapters on nuclear energy, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear security, and nuclear arms control. Before joining CNS he served as Editor-in-Chief of Arms Control Today, Previously, he was the lead foreign policy reporter for CQ Weekly and Legi-Slate News Service, where he covered the full range of national security issues before Congress, and a Foreign Service Officer with the US Information Agency. He holds a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.


This article provides an Asia-Pacific perspective on biological weapons and their relevance to nuclear deterrence in the pandemic era. The entire class of biological weapons is banned by international law; however, biological weapons are generally less costly and less technically challenging to develop than nuclear weapons. Conversely, nuclear weapons are openly possessed by multiple countries in the Asia-Pacific despite their corresponding cost and technical complexity. These two types of weapons of mass destruction – biological and nuclear – do not exist in isolation but in a multifactorial geopolitical environment where the threat and control of one impact that of the other. A third factor that holds the potential to influence this dynamic is the increasing likelihood of natural outbreaks and pandemics. This paper explores potential intersections of biological and nuclear weapons in the pandemic context. First, it describes the threat of biological weapons, including history, threat assessment methodology, and specific threats in the Asia-Pacific region. Next, it reviews options for biological weapons control. Finally, it discusses nuclear deterrence and escalation in the context of both natural and deliberate biological events. It concludes with a summary of key points and recommendations for regional security and stability.

Biological weapons, nuclear deterrence, pandemic era, Asia-Pacific

Full text (PDF) is here.

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