Former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair has warned that extremist groups using biological weapons pose a pertinent threat to the West. The onset of the coronavirus and the Taliban’s coup in Afghanistan have multiplied his concerns. Blair asserted that “[c]ounter-terrorism on its own won’t remove an entrenched threat… We need some boots on the ground.”
The use of biological weapons on civilian or military populations constitutes a vicious and maniacal assault on humanity that would, undoubtedly, be met with severe repercussions. Additionally, a survey conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on senior U.S. policy and decision-makers revealed that 78% of respondents view bioweapons as a “major threat,” and 58% assert that the threat is increasing. This is to say, Blair’s assertion is not, under his identity, necessarily incorrect. Biowarfare has been employed as far back as Ancient Greece and Persia, where armies besieging cities would infect water supply systems with the corpses of diseased animals and humans. Recent anthrax and sarin gas attacks, in the U.S. and Japan respectively, have burned the threat of bioweapons into many countries’ collective psyches, resulting in an almost mystical reverence for their destructive capacity. It is chilling to acknowledge that nature can be engineered to destroy its inhabitants.
However, we must not forget who Tony Blair is – or, for that matter, where he is. This speech was given at the Royal United Services Institute (R.U.S.I.), a security think tank located in London. It is possible that Blair thought his rhetoric would be more welcomed at an institution devoted to countering security threats. Yet, after reading several publications from R.U.S.I., there seems to be a consistent theme of supra-diplomacy instead of violent “solutions.” This is, of course, except a few authors who echo the “radical centrist” Blairite calls for prolonged interventionism.
Indeed, Tony Blair counselling a security think tank on “real” threats to the West is quite comical, given that this is the same man who, after the scathingly critical Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, maintained that he would still invade Iraq again, despite knowing what he knows now. This is also the same man who earned $2.5 million a year from J.P. Morgan after co-starting the war from which they were set to profit by leading the newly created Trade Bank of Iraq only a few years prior. Furthermore, The Tony Blair Institute, established in late 2016, has been the recipient of contributions from the U.S. State Department, the Canadian government, some African governments, Saudi Arabia, and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation – a charity set up by a Ukrainian billionaire. Suspicious?
Ultimately, my point here is not to critique Mr. Blair’s reprehensible actions and nature. (Although he deserves it.) Rather, it is to point out that, when assessing “threats” to the West, one ought to be aware of who one is listening to, and not simply accept the words of a public figure just because he once held public office. The management and securement of biological weapons is an ongoing mission, but not one that is solved with the boots on the ground for which Blair advocates. Instead, nations with global influence and prestige ought to institute a new bioweapons treaty that would appropriately criminalize the acquisition and utilization of biological weapons.
Biophysicist Steven Block, who referred to biological weapons as the “poor man’s atom bomb” in American Scientist, outlines several mechanisms by which the threat of biowarfare could be reduced. Namely, Block supports the development of hi-tech devices capable of instantaneously detecting lethal bacteria and viruses in the environment, and he encourages the production and stockpiling of new vaccines. Block also critiques the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention for its lack of any significant provisions for enforcement or verification and its inability to attain universal ratification.
Britain, already increasing its military presence in Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia, should not continue this expansion of drone and ground warfare. As R.U.S.I.’s director-general, General Karin von Hippel said in a video clip surrounding the geopolitics of the post-9/11 world, “[W]e can’t defeat these organizations militarily.” She is backed up by her co-worker in R.U.S.I.’s counterterrorism department, Professor Michael Clarke, who adds, “[I]n the last 20 years, our defense and foreign policies have bent themselves out of shape in pursuing the expeditionary wars that this attack [9/11] has led to.”
Let me leave you with this thought. Tony Blair infamously sent President George W. Bush a note in late 2002, reading, “I will be with you, whatever.” His actions contributed to the deaths of at least 150,000 Iraqis and the displacement of 1 million more, not to mention the deaths of the British soldiers whom he sent into war. I can safely say that I will not be with Tony Blair, “whatever,” and I hope that neither will you.