July 18, 2016
The Soviet Biological Weapons Program and Its Legacy in Today’s Russia
In its first Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Case Study, the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction (CSWMD) at the National Defense University examined President Richard M. Nixon’s decision, on November 25, 1969, to terminate the U.S. offensive biological weapons program. This occasional paper seeks to explain why the Soviet government, at approximately the same time, decided to do essentially the opposite, namely, to establish a large biological warfare (BW) program that would be driven by newly discovered and powerful biotechnologies. By introducing the innovation of recombinant DNA technology—commonly referred to as genetic engineering—the Soviets were attempting to create bacterial and viral strains that were more useful for military purposes than were strains found in nature.