Science and technology led the development of arms in the Second World War. The world is now moving towards bioweapons. India should be prepared.
By Ashishkumar Chauhan
The balance of power, after 2020, will be decided by the ability of a country or a group of nations to produce bioweapons, and the ability to save their population from bioweapons. It is believed that most wars are in some way a demonstration of technologies of warring parties. Nine times out of 10, more than the cultural, monetary or social superiority, it is the side with superior technology and understanding of science that usually wins the war.
The World War-II was started and fought amongst European powers. Science and technology played a significant role during that war. In some ways, World War-II was a delayed outcome of the first world war and the Spanish flu. The imbalances in the European power structure and the emergence of new powers like the US and Japan had to be addressed in the modern world order.
World War-II was unique in a way that it was a war of science and technology. Use of cars, tanks, submarines, advanced logistics, ships, bombs, warplanes, etc, all took place heavily only during World War-II. Many countries like Germany, UK, etc, converted almost all their industrial capacity into manufacturing of war equipment. Every productive human worked pretty much on war activity.
The war was evenly fought, even though the UK and its allies had large armies due to subjugation of countries across the world in several previous centuries, science and technology across the continent was the same.
Despite the overwhelming strength, the UK led alliance had on paper the war looked like a stalemate for many many years. Millions died, and still, there was no clear winner. This was also the period when seminal work on nuclear physics was being discussed and debated. Most of the basic work and thinking on the modern nuclear science was done in Europe. It was widely believed amongst the scientific community that if someone could generate a lasting chain reaction which allowed the power of the nucleus to be unleashed, it would create an explosion never seen before by humankind. It was a race. A race of scientific ideas and dreams, many of them unproven.
Germany started working on creating an atom bomb. Russia, the UK and many others started working on their projects. Due to the mass killing of Jews by Germany and many other countries, the community took refuge in the new world like the US, Brazil, Argentina and many other places. The US was an upcoming power and didn’t have a major role in the war initially. UK had to work hard to get the US involved. The US was also far away from the scene of conflict and naturally protected from attack by most players due to physical distance.
In the meantime, away from war, the US welcomed many of the European scientists, including Jewish scientists, provided them with places to stay, teach at universities, and laboratories where they could conduct experiments. These scientists created a buzz in the US scientific community. The most well-known amongst the European imports was, of course, Albert Einstein, whose theories of relativity had fundamentally changed scientific thinking.
A project (the Manhattan Project) was created to build an atom bomb in complete secrecy. The project started in a faraway place in New Mexico on the westernmost desert of the US in a laboratory that became famous—Los Alamos—as the place where the first atom bomb was created.
All powers were trying to make atom bombs. The US team succeeded in testing it for the first time on July 16, 1945, at a place near Los Alamos—Alamogordo. The US won the race decisively and far ahead of any other country. The creation of atom bomb was so decisive that its use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in quick succession on August 6, 1945, and August 9, 1945, killed several thousand and maimed millions, leading to surrender of Japan and ending of the Second World War.
Later on, over 70 years, Soviet Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan and a few other countries directly or clandestinely acquired atom bombs. Cold War, a stalemate between the US and the USSR for more than 40 years, continued on the seeming comparability of the nuclear arsenal between the two countries. Interestingly, all the powers that acquired nuclear power worked hard to ensure that other countries do not obtain the same. The importance of being a nuclear power is so great, and rightfully so, that such power wielded lightly or without grave reasons, may annihilate the entire humanity, and perhaps wipe out the entire planet earth. In some ways, the history of the world over the last 70 years was largely about nuclear stalemate and nuclear power acquisition by different countries. Nuclear haves and have nots are different in the current world order. Nuclear wannabes like India are trying to break into the club of nuclear haves for several decades now.
A similar situation, to an extent, has now arisen in 2020. Some powers understand the workings, controlling and manufacturing of the bioweapons, which come with a similar promise or worse of nuclear bombs. Bioweapons can kill millions and billions. Without firing a single missile or a bullet, a war can be won, or it can be demonstrated to the world that a new powerful weapon has now been developed. Many more different types of similar viruses and many other kinds of bioweapons can be developed, stored and used when required.
Every society, country worth its salt, whether willing or unwilling, will now have to participate in this new bioweapon race. Societies and countries will have to develop new age bioweapons and also their antidote to survive, stay independent and not be subjugated or annihilated.
A new invisible war is now taking place. Each country will have to choose a side. But, more importantly, develop an offence and a defensive framework. Is our country ready? The old-world order is going to transform itself in the best-case scenario. UN, world bank, IMF, WTO, UNCTAD, G7, G20, etc, have become less relevant in this new world after Covid-19. New alignments will lead to a new world order. Where will we be? We will have to play our cards well. We missed the bus post-independence. This time, we shouldn’t. We must take on the challenge or risk being annihilated forever.
PS: Invention and largescale production of Penicillin after World War-II and subsequent other antibiotic and other medicines helped the world multiply its population three-four times within 70-80 years of mass production. Penicillin was perhaps the most responsible invention which allowed humankind to proliferate so much over the last 70 years. It was a triumph of science and technology over nature and human stupidity. Covid-19 has shown that the golden era of antibiotic has come to an end. We need new thinking and direction.
The author is MD & CEO, BSE. Views are personal