In the last decade North Korea has made rapid technological advances. Its missile program and its nuclear program have seen major improvements, these are the main worry of the rest of the World. But what is perhaps more of a worry is that Kim’s army is also making progress in areas that requires state of the art technical knowhow, such as in developing malware as pointed out in the New York Times.
Now, malware is the digital analogue of a bioweapon. Manufacturing such weapons is now much easier than just a few years ago. We can read here:
Eradicating smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in history, took humanity decades and cost billions of dollars. Bringing the scourge back would probably take a small scientific team with little specialized knowledge half a year and cost about $100,000.
So, it should be possible for North Korea to produce new viruses. What then matters is whether Kim can put them to good use. E.g., while we’re worried about Kim’s nukes, Kim knows that using them would be the end of his regime. So, his nukes are only useful as a deterrent against an attack and they come with a huge price tag. The cost of developing them and the cost of the sanctions imposed by the rest of the World.
Kim cannot use his nukes to get rid of sanctions. If he were to say: “Lift the sanctions or I’ll destroy Seoul.”, we’ll say to him: “try that and you’ll be toast.”. The more pressure we’re going to exert on Kim’s regime, the more Kim will try to find a way out, and biological weapons provide for the remedy he seeks.
The way biological weapons could be deployed by Kim to get the sanctions lifted is as follows. Kim could ask his scientists to develop many different strains of pandemic flu variants that have never circulated before. He can then vaccinate his own population against each of these viruses. The viruses can then be spread around the world by infecting birds with the viruses and releasing the infected birds. Or he can let secret agents spread it using a spray.
When the pandemics start Kim can offer the World his vaccines in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. This is a risk free strategy for Kim, because any attack on North Korea would mean that the World will not get the vaccine and with a large number of simultaneous flu pandemics, the World economy is going to collapse and hundreds of millions of people will die. It’s also extremely difficult for democratic governments to deny their populations of life saving vaccines, just to continue with a policy that many will blame on an escalation that’s at least partially to blame on the US.
Biological weapons will also give Kim a second strike capability. If Kim’s regime is taken out, his secret agents will be able to release deadly viruses like smallpox that they have been issued with in advance. This could even lead to the total demise of all humans. Viruses evolve in such a way as to spread optimally, extremely virulent viruses typically have a host to which they are not very virulent, as killing their host undermines their own existence.
So, viruses that have evolved naturally tend not be extremely virulent, and if they are like the Ebola virus they tend to have another host and they are then not very well adapted to spread from one person to another. Artificial viruses don’t have such constraints.