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False Allegations of U.S. Biological Weapons Use during the Korean War

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The first charge that the United States had used biological weapons (BW) during the Korean War was made on May 8, 1951, by North Korea (the Democratic Republic of North Korea, or DPRK).1 In a cable to the president of the United Nations Security Council, the DPRK’s Minister of Foreign Affairs claimed that the United States had used BW between
December 1950 and January 1951. In early 1952, the DPRK, China, and the USSR initiated a much larger campaign of BW allegations against the United States. U.S. government officials explicitly rejected the charges in absolute terms on repeated occasions. In fact, these biological warfare allegations were contrived and fraudulent, as documents obtained from former Soviet archives in January 1998 show, explicitly and in detail. Nevertheless, the propaganda campaign had wide international resonance at the time.

This chapter reviews the charges and then details the international response and itsshortcomings and missed opportunities to rebut the charges. It offers a retrospective assessment of the charges, and draws lessons of the case for future potentially false or fabricated allegations. It is important to understand who was responsible for conceiving and carrying out these fabricated charges: the USSR, China, or both? Because the charges were concocted, the book’s framework of “identification, characterization, and attribution” is applied in a somewhat modified manner. Since putative “evidence” was planted and publicized internationally, the credibility of that “evidence” is examined. Given that the DPRK, China and the USSR refused to permit field investigation of the charges by any international body, the key question becomes: what might have been done at the time that could have more clearly rebutted the charges?

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