Safeguarding the Indo-Pacific: Navigating the Nonkinetic Battlefield of Environmental Security

  • Published
  • By Shreya Das Barman



The environment has evolved into a nonkinetic domain of warfare, with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats posing significant risks. Historical events like the Spanish flu, anthrax poisoning, and the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the devastation caused by CBRN elements. Technological advancements have increased the risk of nonkinetic warfare, exemplified by the 2001 anthrax poisoning in the United States. To address this, countries must bolster their capabilities and invest in research and development for prevention, preparedness, and response strategies. This article focuses on bioterrorism within environmental security, emphasizing the need for countries to utilize limited resources effectively while considering potential animal-based threats. Collaboration among Indo-Pacific nations is essential, transcending bilateral issues to collectively safeguard the environment. The article examines each country’s strengths and proposes cooperative strategies. Challenges include assessing stakeholder willingness to cooperate while maintaining territorial integrity and developing population training modules. Measures to address these challenges are imperative for effective preparedness and execution.



But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.

—Rachel Carson

In today’s world, the chaos wrought by the non-kinetic domain of warfare is undeniably alarming and demands prompt attention. Furthermore, the ascendance of the environment as a novel arena of warfare has significantly compounded humanity’s challenges. Events such as the Spanish flu and COVID-19 could readily be weaponized to inflict substantial harm on adversaries, exploiting the element of plausible deniability. This underscores the stark reality of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) warfare.

An Overview

The environment, often described as “the most transnational of transnational issues,” harbors readily available resources susceptible to misuse under the guise of research.[1] The COVID-19 virus purportedly leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, engaged in bat research. Similarly, the world witnessed the devastating consequences of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India, where the leakage of methyl isocyanate (MIC) from the Union Carbide chemical plant claimed thousands of lives and inflicted hereditary abnormalities on survivors who continue to suffer.[2] Apart from all this, the anthrax attack on the United States, famously known as Amerithrax, demonstrated the potential for biological attacks from any direction.[3]

This underscores the pressing need to address environmental security and the emerging threat of bioterrorism. Animals such as rodents and bats could serve as vectors for spreading diseases over long distances and short periods, potentially triggering epidemics and pandemics that strain economies and undermine defense systems. The 2021 India–China confrontation in Galwan, Ladakh, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities faced.

Climate change exacerbates the risk of bioterrorism by facilitating the growth and spread of pathogens. For example, melting permafrost in Siberia has unearthed infected bodies and biological agents, leading to anthrax outbreaks after decades of dormancy.[4] Climate change also makes the world vulnerable to economic losses at a large scale. Moreover, climate conditions favorable to diseases like Lumpy Skin Disease pose significant economic risks, particularly to countries reliant on industries such as dairy production. Ethiopia, for instance, incurred substantial financial losses due to lumpy skin disease (LSD) in local Zebu cattle, while in India, such a disease outbreak could severely impact agriculture, where cattle are still used for plowing.[5] This illustrates the potential for adversaries to exploit vulnerabilities in both environmental and economic domains for strategic gain.

Using the environment as a tool for warfare is not a recent concept. For instance, during the Trojan War, Scythian archers reportedly utilized clostridium-infested (poisoned) arrows to assail their adversaries, causing gangrene and tetanus, resulting in fatalities.[6] Similarly, during the First World War (1914-1918), Germany covertly plotted to infect allied forces’ horses with Glanders, aiming to diminish their combat effectiveness.[7] Thus, bioterrorism has long served as an effective method for inflicting casualties on enemies covertly.

Furthermore, the ease with which non-state actors can employ biological weapons, even with just a single syringe, underscores the critical need for comprehensive study and preparedness. Historical accounts detail instances of medieval warriors hurling cattle heads infested with microbes into enemy territory to maximize harm.[8] The objectives of biological warfare are twofold: to cause maximum casualties and to wage psychological warfare with lasting effects on future generations. Advances in genetic engineering have facilitated the tailored design and deployment of specific organisms to suit strategic objectives.

The challenge remains: how can nations defend themselves against such invisible threats? Strengthening domestic defenses and border security concurrently is imperative. Domestically, nations must fortify healthcare infrastructure to ensure an ample supply of necessary medicines, thereby avoiding scenarios like the hoarding of Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Waging warfare through the environment is not only cost-effective but also grants nonstate actors the opportunity to delay subsequent attacks. For instance, releasing virus-infected medicine into a water body creates a gradual spread throughout the population, allowing adversaries to prepare for further assaults, ensnaring the target in a cyclically evolving threat landscape with no immediate resolution in sight.

Furthermore, employing biological agents as tools of warfare carries consequences that reverberate for generations. Consider the COVID-19 pandemic as a case in point. The aftermath of the pandemic has been marked by a complex recovery phase, with many individuals succumbing during this period. Those who survived continue to grapple with various health complications, effectively achieving the intended goal of nonstate actors: disrupting societal harmony.

Indo-Pacific Region: Dedication, Cooperation, and Collectiveness

To prevent the environment from becoming an active theater of warfare, it is crucial to closely monitor environmental developments and changes. Nations must prioritize investment in research and development (R&D), particularly in specialized labs dedicated to identifying solutions for emerging and “unmanned” diseases. However, caution must be exercised during research to prevent accidental leaks from labs, which could disrupt normal functioning. To mitigate this risk, labs should enforce strict standard operating procedures (SOP), such as wearing safety gear and thorough sanitization protocols for individuals exiting the lab. In the event of an infection, infected individuals must be promptly isolated and provided with appropriate medical care. Furthermore, blood samples should be collected for further research into the virus’ protein structure, facilitating the development of effective countermeasures.

In an interconnected world, close cooperation is imperative to prevent the complete collapse of any single economy, as exemplified by the Sri Lankan economy.[9] The Indo-Pacific region, home to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic countries, faces significant risks from pandemics.[10]  Establishing a centralized database of disease-related information, including past occurrences and treatments, can facilitate rapid response efforts. This database, managed by an international organization like the World Health Organization (WHO), would enable swift analysis and the establishment of standard medical protocols to contain the spread of emerging diseases. Mandatory auditing of labs involved in biological weapons research by state authorities can ensure ethical conduct and accountability in their operations.

The region should prioritize hosting an annual Joint Conference on Doctors with the objective of discussing environmental health and devising strategies to address unknown diseases. Additionally, stakeholders in the region should collaboratively organize workshops to raise awareness among their populations.

The assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the significant role of fear in exacerbating the crisis. Due to widespread unawareness and fear, many individuals avoided testing for the virus, inadvertently accelerating its spread. It is imperative to educate people on proper conduct in the event of a disease outbreak, emphasizing the importance of regular drills to familiarize them with necessary actions.

Outbreaks of novel diseases often induce panic, complicating response efforts and leading to erroneous actions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, fear-driven behaviors hindered effective containment measures, contributing to the virus’s rapid spread. To mitigate such challenges, countries in the Indo-Pacific Region should establish rapid response teams (RRT) comprising local law enforcement, medical professionals, and trained nurses. These teams should undergo rigorous training to effectively manage disease outbreaks at the epidemic level. Furthermore, integrating pandemic management into higher education curricula for doctors and nurses would ensure that training begins at the foundational level. RRT members should be equipped with skills to maintain calm and provide guidance to the public during such crises.

Researchers studying potential biological agents could subject viruses to varying weather conditions to acclimate them, ensuring their vulnerability to temperatures higher or lower than the set threshold, thereby weakening or rendering them inactive. Additionally, exploring quorum sensing techniques with the aim of attenuating virus virulence could be beneficial. The Indo-Pacific region could collectively investigate and integrate quorum sensing concepts into their R&D protocols.

In this era of technological advancement, Artificial intelligence (AI) integrated with robotics offers promising solutions for combating unknown viruses. For instance, biosensitive labs could employ remotely controlled robots to conduct experiments. These robots, equipped with sensors, can promptly detect and alert humans to any potential leaks, enabling swift response measures. Research into virovore bacteria, which purportedly consume viruses, holds promise for curbing disease spread and exploring vaccine applications through quorum sensing methods.[11] Additionally, regular vaccination campaigns should be conducted, with efforts to integrate COVID-19 vaccines into routine immunization schedules, akin to vaccines such as the diptheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (DTaP) vaccine Collaboratively, the region’s nations can establish a vaccine experts group to uphold health security and create a dedicated relief fund for researching future diseases and responding to epidemic or pandemic crises.[12]

The Indo-Pacific Region must unite and invest in technology to proactively address emerging threats, particularly in their nascent stages. Furthermore, on a global scale, greater emphasis should be placed on the effective implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) of 1975. Adhering to Article V of the BWC, stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region should engage in bilateral and multilateral consultations to devise a comprehensive roadmap for pandemic response.[13] All stakeholders should share this road map and strictly adhere to it. 

To uphold the environmental integrity, the principle of “no first use” should evolve into a commitment of not using biological weapons under any circumstances. Establishing hotlines among stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region can facilitate timely communication and information sharing, particularly regarding national emergencies.

Additionally, the region should establish a dedicated “Pandemic Fund” by reallocating resources, ensuring preparedness for future outbreaks. This fund could support research and development, procurement of medical equipment, infrastructure development, and personnel training, bolstering the region’s readiness to combat pandemics effectively.


With the evolving nature of warfare, the environment has emerged as a potent, yet unpredictable, avenue of attack capable of crippling a nation’s economy or causing widespread devastation. It is essential for every nation to fortify its healthcare systems and bolster national security defenses against potential adversaries. The Indo-Pacific region, given its strategic significance, must collaborate to uphold peace and stability in the area while exercising caution to prevent accidental release of viruses into the environment. Additionally, countries within the region should explore the efficacy of traditional medicines in combating such diseases. Through efficient cooperation, the Indo-Pacific region can serve as a model of dedication, cooperation, and collective action for the global community. ♦

Shreya Das Barman

Ms. Das Barman holds postgraduate degree in East Asian studies. Her areas of interest include India–Taiwan–China relations and defense & strategic studies.


[1] Sanjay Kumar and Neelam Kumari, “Environmental Security of India and its Implications,” International Journal of Science and Research 9, no.4 (April 2020): 467–74,

[2] Judah  Passow and Tim Edwards, “The long, dark shadow of Bhopal: still waiting for justice, four decades on,” The Guardian, 14 June 2023,

[3] Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Amerithrax or Anthrax Investigation,” n.d.,

[4] Vladan Radosavljevic, “Environmental Health and Bioterrorism,” Encyclopedia of Environmental Health (12 September 2019): 450–57,

[5] Fatemeh Namazi and Azizollah Khodakaram Tafti, “Lumpy skin disease, an emerging transboundary viral disease: A Review,” Veterinary Medicine and Science 7, no. 3 (May 2021): 888–96,

[6] Friedrich Frischknecht, “The History of Biological Warfare,” in Decontamination of Warfare Agents, ed. André Richardt and Marc-Michael Blum (Chichester: Wiley-VCH, 2008), 1–10,

[7] Barry R. Schneider, “Biological Weapons in History,” Britannica, n.d.,

[8] David P. Clark and Nanette J. Pazdernik, “Biological Warfare: Infectious Disease and Bioterrorism,” in Biotechnology: Applying the Genetic Revolution (Burlington, VT: Elsevier Science, 2016), 687–719,

[9] Associated Press, “Explained: Why Sri Lanka’s economy collapsed, and what’s next for the island nation?,” Indian Express, 10 July 2022,

[10] Daniel F. Runde, Conor M. Savoy, and Owen Murphy, “Post-pandemic Infrastructure and Digital Connectivity in the Indo-Pacific,” CSIS Brief, 2 November 2020,

[11] Oceane Duboust, “An organism that eats viruses has been discovered. What is a ‘virovore’?,” Euronews, 2 January 2023,

[12] “Joint Statement from Quad Leaders” (press release, The White House, 24 September 2021),

[13] Office of Disarmament Affairs, United Nations, “History of the Biological Weapons Convention,” n.d.,


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