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New Russian Evidence on the Korean War Biological Warfare Allegations: Background and Analysis

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The major allegation of the use of biological weapons—one of the three categories of weapons of mass destruction, along with nuclear and chemical weapons—in the Cold War was made during the Korean War against the United States. In 1951 and again in 1952, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), North Korea, and the Soviet Union charged that the United States had used a wide range of biological warfare (BW) agents, bacterial and viral pathogens and insect vectors of disease, against China and North Korea. They alleged the use of BW agents against humans, plants, and animals. The charges were organized into a worldwide campaign and pressed at the United Nations; it was scarcely a matter simply of “the spread of press information...” US government officials denied the charges, but it has never before been possible to establish definitively whether the charges were true or false.

In January 1998, however, a reporter for the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun published findings from twelve documents from former Soviet archives that provide explicit and detailed evidence that the charges were contrived and fraudulent.1 One document (a fragment of it) is dated 21 February 1952, while the remaining eleven date from 13 April to 2 June 1953, in the four months following Stalin’s death on 5 March 1953. While it is clear that the twelve documents are far from a complete history of the events, they nevertheless describe, at least in part, how the allegations were contrived by Chinese officials and Soviet advisors, and identify several of the individuals involved in the process. This paper provides a brief history of the allegations and a summary of the documents’ major disclosures.

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