Bioterrorism refers to the use of biological warfare agents such as microorganisms
(bacteria, germs, viruses) and toxins to infect as many civilians and other living organisms as
possible. These bioterror agents are advantageous because of certain properties; they are
colorless, odorless, hard to detect, easily concealed and can easily be spread in air through
ingestion or inhalation. This allows bioterrorists to escape with ease and would also prevent
chaos in a civilian population because symptoms are not necessarily effective immediately.
Specifically targeted areas include regions with densely populated areas, and are much more
unlikely to be in a remote area. Symptoms and signs would take some time to appear before an
attack was suspected due to the fact that biological agents require several days to incubate and
spread, and the ease at which bioterrorists could spread microorganisms. Different bioterrorism
agents are categorized into three different groups, based on the severity of its effects. Category A
bioterrorism agents are regarded as having the highest risk and include toxins and organisms that
lead to high death rates, ease of transmission and public disruption and panic. Agents classified
in category A are also particularly threatening because they require special action in regards to
public health, which includes specific medical procedures as carried out by Crisis and
Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) or the Health Alert Network (HAN). Category B
agents are considered having the second highest risk because they spread at a fairly moderate
rate and cause relatively high illness rates. Although category B does not require specific
medical attention like those of category A, increased monitoring in diseases is required. Lastly,
category C agents are of much lower risk to civilian populations because they are still emerging,
such as the hantavirus or Nipah virus, although they can be easily spread, are easily available and
have the capacity to cause major health problems. In 1984, members of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
tried to spread infectious agents to local residents as a means to manipulate local electoral
processes. Salmonella typhimuirum was spread throughout local salad bars in The Dalles,
Oregon and caused 751 people to suffer from food poisoning. Although this incident did not
result in any deaths, it was still considered a major event because it was the first known
bioterrorist attack within the United States. In 1993, Aum Shinkrikyo, a religious group, released
anthrax in Tokyo, Japan. This incident turned out to be completely unsuccessful because the
group had tried using the vaccine strain of anthrax, which does not contain the genes that are
necessary to create symptomatic responses. The most recent bioterrorist attack occurred in 2001
in the United States, where letters laced with anthrax spores were deliberately mailed to media
offices and two Democratic senators in the US, and ended up killing 5 and infecting 17. Several
of the biological warfare agents that are highly effective and are also highly lethal include
anthrax, smallpox, ebola virus, ricin, and cholera. Agents that have fairly more moderate effects
include Q fever, mycoplasma, T-2 Mycotoxins and Type B Enterotoxin. In the past, religious
cults, sects and movements have used biological agents to terrorize populations. While
bioterrorist attacks are not as common as other forms of warfare, bioterrorism has the potential to
cause devastating effects upon entire populations and wreak havoc upon millions of people and
In 2002, the World Health Assembly was held in order to strengthen surveillance of
deliberately caused diseases and support countries in better preparedness. The importance of
strengthening national health systems and distributing more health plans to rural areas was
addressed by the General Assembly in 2010 with the adoption of in A/RES/65/1, and states how
the World Health Assembly was responsible for developing and transferring technology,
producing innovative medicines and vaccines and ensuring international assistance. Also in
2006, the General Assembly adopted the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy after passing
A/RES/60/288 and A/RES/62/272. These resolutions discuss the importance of putting new
counter terrorism systems in place to combat terrorism while protecting human rights. Also, it is
important to mention the need for Member States to improve public health systems as a means to
ensure that advances in biotechnology are used solely for the purposes of benefitting the public.
During the Meeting of States Parties of the convention on the Prohibition of the Development,
Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their
Destruction held in Geneva in 2008, Ban Ki-moon emphasized the need to focus on biosecurity,
disease surveillance, detection, raising awareness, education, and preventing threats to public
health. Ban Ki-Moon also addressed the need for the implementation of international
programmes and the coordination of resources and activities, so that biological risks could be
safely managed. Existing international organizations that are actively involved in this problem
include World Health Organization, Interpol, and the World Organization for Animal Health.
The UN has been involved with combatting terrorism for many years, but its involvement with
bioterrorism has brought attention to the potential harm that advances in technology can cause.
Diseases are widespread in rural areas of certain African regions, including AIDS, cholera and
malaria. Certain illnesses in these countries are important to consider because they have the
capacity to cause destructive effects on entire populations during times of conflict. The
governments of African countries are not in favor of using bioterrorism as a warfare tactic.
African governments have not been entirely involved in protecting citizens from outbreaks of
viruses and diseases due to poor health measures. If measures have been taken in the past to
reduce or eradicate widespread diseases, illnesses and health issues, delegates could consider
working with other countries to provide assistance.
Since Asia contains some of the most densely populated cities, certain countries could be at an
increased risk of bioterrorism. Apart from the high population density in Asian countries,
infectious diseases are also quite prevalent, and technology and research in bioscience has
advanced at a rapid rate. Studies have shown that although Asia is unlikely to be targeted by
bioterrorists, certain countries such as China would be at high risk because of its high population
density. Asia has created many public health plans to counter the outbreak of diseases, having
dealt with pandemics such as SARS in the past. Security programmes and research laboratories
in Asia are largely supported due to the impact of these issues.
European countries have developed numerous response plans to counter a bioterrorist attack by
creating different strategies and communication systems to aid different countries. Health risk
assessments and support for research are also common in several European countries, so
delegates in this bloc should have a general understanding of past resolutions that have been put
into place and new preparedness plans that are most effective in protecting civilian populations.
Countries that have dealt with biological threats in the past should share feasible plans and ideas
to effectively reduce the harm that a bioterrorist attack could have.
In the past, the threat of bioterrorism has not been actively supported by governments of certain
Middle Eastern countries that are actively involved in developing nuclear programs. Some
zoonoses that are particularly dangerous are endemic to Middle East, such as Brucellosis. Middle
Eastern countries have previously established emergency response plans in the case of terrorist
attacks to best protect innocent civilians. Warfare programmes have also helped to ensure
international cooperation and safe utilization of their resources.
Although it is less likely for countries in Latin America to be the target of a bioterrorist act,
countries in this region currently have underdeveloped health services. South American countries
are not actively involved in this issue but are associated with several organizations that target
these health risks. Countries in South America also support medical facilities and technological
resources that best help to protect its people. The countries with more developed health and
scientific facilities tend to prevail in these type of issues, so working with countries that are
advanced in medical training could be beneficial.
Questions to Consider
1. With the limited experience and lack of data relating to biological warfare agents, how
can countries best protect populations?
2. Since there have not been a multitude of cases relating to this problem, what is the best
way to evaluate and prevent bioterrorist attacks?
3. How do different organisms react to various doses?
4. Also, how will populations be able to detect signs of a bioterrorist attack?
5. What plans are proposed in your country as a method of informing civilians about
bioterrorist warfare agents?
6. Are there any steps that your country can take to protect citizens ahead of time?
7. What types of technology is available in your country to carry out these measures?
8. In the case of a global bioterrorist attack, which steps or plans will your country follow to
effectively protect its persons?
9. Are medical treatments available within your country? Are there a sufficient amount of
resources to protect the people seeking medical aid?
10. Has your country had a direct experience with large scale bioterrorist attacks in the past?