Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Frank L. Smith III's "American Biodefense"

Frank L. Smith III is a lecturer with the Centre for International Security Studies and the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Biodefense: How Dangerous Ideas about Biological Weapons Shape National Security, and reported the following:
American Biodefense explains how dangerous ideas about science and technology hurt U.S. national security, particularly for defense against biological warfare and bioterrorism. Page 99 of this book finds the story’s main character – the U.S. military – struggling to provide vaccinations against anthrax in the 1990s, despite the longstanding threat of biological weapons and medical countermeasures that had been around for decades.
The initial plan to vaccinate the entire force was first restricted to service members deployed in the Persian Gulf and Korea, and then only those in the Persian Gulf…. Similar supply problems limited the military’s use of other vaccines for biodefense, including botulinum vaccine, during the invasion of Iraq.
Unfortunately, vaccines were not the only problem; the armed forces neglected almost every aspect of biodefense from World War II through the 2003 Iraq War. These problems are caused by a particular set of ideas. The military’s dominant frame of reference (i.e., the stock of ideas used to solve problems) is focused on kinetic warfare. From precision guided munitions to interlocking fields of fire, the armed forces are very good at solving kinetic problems involving projectile weapons and explosives. However, biological weapons are a different form of firepower. They cause damage through disease that is delayed and thus not immediately apparent like a blast injury or gunshot wound.

Rather than solve the nonkinetic problems involved with biodefense, the military instead relied on inaccurate stereotypes. These are overgeneralized ideas about groups. For example, the stereotype of “weapons of mass destruction” or WMD lumps radically different weapons together under the same label. Because of this and similar stereotypes (CBW, NBC, CBR, etc.), the military assumed that biological weapons were like chemical weapons, even though they are very different, and it mistook chemical experience for biological expertise. Military biodefense was neglected as a result. In contrast, different ideas were at work inside civilian organizations and so civilian biodefense has enjoyed more support.

Stereotypes are dangerous. In effect, these ideas are one downside to what Thomas Kuhn called scientific paradigms, since stereotypes are what organizations use to acknowledge and simultaneously dismiss the anomalies or outliers that do not fit inside their dominant frame or pattern for problem solving. The U.S. military is not unique in this regard. Therefore, the lessons learned in American Biodefense have important implications for a wide variety of military and civilian organizations that are involved with national security and other complex challenges.
Learn more about the book and author at Frank L. Smith III's website.

--Marshal Zeringue