Australia: Biological weaponsThe Australian Department of Defence formed the New Weapons and Equipment Development Committee soon after the end of WW2. Documents in the National Archives, declassified in 1998, revealed the extent to which Australia considered the development of biological weapons in the 1940s and 50s.
Secretary of the Department F.G. Sheddon sought the advice of leading microbiologist Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet in December 1946. Burnet was Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research, and won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1960. Sheddon asked whether Australia had the capability to develop biological weapons that would work in tropical Asia without spreading to Australia's more temperate population centres.
Burnet wrote a comprehensive memo to the Department of Defence in which he said Australia should develop biological weapons that would work in tropical Asia without spreading to Australia's more temperate population centres.
"Specifically to the Australian situation, the most effective counter-offensive to threatened invasion by overpopulated Asiatic countries would be directed towards the destruction by biological or chemical means of tropical food crops and the dissemination of infectious disease capable of spreading in tropical but not under Australian conditions."In a meeting with Sheddon in January 1947, Burnet argued that Australia's temperate climate could give it a significant military advantage.
"The main contribution of local research so far as Australia is concerned might be to study intensively the possibilities of biological warfare in the tropics against troops and civil populations at a relatively low level of hygiene and with correspondingly high resistance to the common infectious diseases."Burnet was invited to join the chemical and biological warfare subcommittee of the New Weapons and Equipment Development Committee in September 1947. The committee prepared a report, of which Burnet was the principal author, entitled Note on War from a Biological Angle suggesting that biological warfare could be a powerful weapon to help defend a sparsely populated Australia. The report urged the government to encourage Australian universities to research areas of biological science of relevance to biological weapons.
"The main strategic use of biological warfare may well be to administer the coup de grace to a virtually defeated enemy and compel surrender in the same way that the atomic bomb served in 1945. Its use has the tremendous advantage of not destroying the enemy's industrial potential which can then be taken over intact. Overt biological warfare might be used to enforce surrender by psychological rather than direct destructive measures." (Note on War from a Biological Angle)The minute of a meeting in February 1948 note that Burnet "was of the opinion that if Australia undertakes work in this field it should be on the tropical offensive side rather than the defensive."
Burnet and a delegation of the chemical and biological warfare subcommittee visited the UK in 1950 to examine British chemical and biological warfare research. In a report of the visit Burnet concluded that "In a country of low sanitation the introduction of an exotic intestinal pathogen, e.g. by water contamination, might initiate widespread dissemination."
"Introduction of yellow fever into a country with appropriate mosquito vectors might build up into a disabling epidemic before control measures were established."The subcommittee recommended that "the possibilities of an attack on the food supplies of S-E Asia and Indonesia using B.W. agents should be considered by a small study group".
It 1951 it recommended that "a panel reporting to the chemical and biological warfare subcommittee should be authorised to report on the offensive potentiality of biological agents likely to be effective against the local food supplies of South-East Asia and Indonesia".
The activities of the chemical and biological warfare subcommittee were scaled back soon after, as Prime Minister Robert Menzies was more interested in trying to acquire nuclear weapons.
Australia signed the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972 and chairs the Australia Group.