Physicist: World War III will be fought with viruses, not bombs

The US may lose such a war before realizing what hit it, where it came from, or even knowing that it was attacked.

Russia’s heavy losses in Ukraine and the Wagner uprising have increased the chances of escalation of the war in Europe into a global deflagration, if President Vladimir Putin feels pressured to do so, but the next World War III may not involve conventional warfare such as guns, bombs, and tanks.

Instead, according to physicist Richard A. Mueller, professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, we could witness the use of biological and computer viruses. 

In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, the author of the “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines” and “Now: The Physics of Time”, and a former member of the Jason Security Advisory group for the US Defense Department, says that the likes of Russia or China may be tempted to weaponize viruses that would covertly cripple the adversary’s economy within a very short timeframe. 

President Putin has threatened many times to use nuclear weapons against Russia's enemy, ordered numerous cyber attacks in the EU and the US and the poisoning of his opponents. 

Biological warfare

Mueller believes that a deadly virus could be optimized to reduce the chance of mutation and released in the target country, possibly near a biological facility to create the illusion of a domestic program leak. The aggressor nation would first immunize its own population through a campaign under, perhaps, the guise of flu vaccination, but also incorporate an immune suppression gene in the virus to facilitate its spread by asymptomatic carriers.

Mueller believes that not the military, but hospitals will be the most prominent targets, in order to reinforce the illusion that it is a major peacetime issue rather than a war.

Cyber attacks

Alongside a biological strike, it makes sense to unleash a cyber-attack to disable critical infrastructure such as power grids, healthcare system, water supply, defense networks, and so on. The aim would be to create maximum disruption while maintaining the illusion that war hasn’t begun. The attacker might even falsely claim their own systems are under attack, enhancing the perception of direction.

Computer viruses such as ransomware could simultaneously target power grids, power plants, factories, oil refineries, trains, airlines, shipping, banking, water supply, sewage treatment facilities, governmental services, and more.

Who did it?

If the US were to be the target of either or both of these warfare methods, it would lose the war before realizing what has hit it, where it came from, or even knowing that it was attacked.

Richard Mueller argues that the outbreak of World War III may not be what we expect. The current model of escalating nuclear conflict was described 60 years ago by another physicist, Hermann Kahn, founder of the Hudson Institute, but technologies have come a long way since then.

He explained that conventional weapons - bombs, missiles, combat equipment, or troops - may never appear on the World War III battlefield. Biological viruses and computer viruses are likely to be the weapons of choice. As an example, the scientist pointed out to the COVID-19 pandemic, which punched the US economy quickly and successfully, although it was not a deliberate attack.

The great value of a dual biological and cyber-attack for an attacker lies in the possibility of achieving destructive goals while keeping the entire process secret.

Covid statistics by 3 July 2923, according to the World Health Organization:

How to respond?

Such scenarios have been explored mainly by Hollywood writers, but governments and military in many countries, too, tested biological and computer viruses to some extent, the author said.

Deterrence will require a clear promise to respond to aggression. In the event of such an attack, it is crucial to correctly identify the perpetrator. Defensive measures include a rapid vaccine development and strengthening the national cyber security. If deterrence fails, possible responses could include asset confiscation and a strong cyber-attack capability aimed at the enemy’s military and industry.

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The most important aspect is to convince the potential hostile actors that success is impossible or not worth trying, and that the consequences will be swift and disastrous.

America's leaders should take seriously the prospect of their country’s defeat without being invaded or even awareness there is an attack, Mueller noted.

While biological weapons are banned by the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and On Their Destruction (known as the Biological Weapons Convention, or BWC), which forms the foundation of the international biological arms control regime, no agreement exists currently regarding the computer virus control or cyber warfare.

News-Café.eu published earlier an analysis about how artificial intelligence would destroy humanity, and some of Mueller’s ideas are covered in that piece, which you’ll find here


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