As Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un hold their summit in Vietnam, there is a major danger that the narrow focus on nuclear weapons obscures: Kim holds the whip in a three-ring circus of weapons of mass destruction. The other two rings, adjacent and in many ways more frightening, feature chemical weapons and – above all – biological threats.
The North Koreans are suspected by U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies of holding substantial amounts of a variety of biological agents including smallpox, botulism, typhoid and anthrax. In 2015, the North Korean media showed Kim touring a biological plant. A former Pentagon official in charge of countering such programs told reporters that North Korean bioweapons are “advanced, underestimated, and highly lethal.”
I remember that as the U.S. military prepared for the Gulf War in the early 1990s, most of us in uniform took a series of a dozen shots we were informed might reduce the effect of anthrax should Saddam Hussein launch a bio-attack. Bioweapons have some advantages over nuclear weapons in terms of spreading terror: They can easily be smuggled across borders, and their use can be very hard to attribute, unlike a nuclear weapon with an obvious origin.