North Korea’s military arsenal is a hot topic today–nuclear and conventional. But what is known about the biological weapons (BW) program?

Researchers with Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School teamed up with intelligence firm AMPLYFI to examine these topics including policies and proposals for the future.


The current status and the future of North Korea’s BW program remain unclear; however, government statements, defector testimonies, and circumstantial evidence such as the smallpox vaccination of North Korean soldiers that at least in the past, North Korea has held an interest in developing biological weapons.

North Korea is assumed to have several pathogens in possession to include Bacillus anthracis (Anthrax), Clostridium botulinum (Botulism), Vibrio cholerae (Cholera), Bunyaviridae hantavirus (Korean Hemorrhagic Fever), Yersinia pestis (Plague), Variola (Smallpox), Salmonella typhi (Typhoid Fever), Coquillettidia fuscopennata (Yellow Fever), Shigella (Dysentery), Brucella (Brucellosis), Staphylococcus aureus (Staph), Rickettsia prowazekii (Typhus Fever), and T-2 mycotoxin (Alimentary Toxic Aleukia), the report notes.

The ROK Ministry of National Defense assessed that North Korea may even have capabilities to weaponize them.

LISTEN: North Korea’s Bioweapon Program: What do we actually know?

What is unknown is the extent to which North Korea can weaponize biological agents. The most recent statement made by the South Korean Defense Ministry is that “North Korea has 13 types of BW agents which it can weaponize within ten days, and anthrax and smallpox are the likely agents it would deploy.”

It is unknown whether North Korea has the capability to weaponize all 13 types of agents, and whether North Korea has the capacity to produce a mass stockpile of stabilized biological agents.

The report also discusses the means of delivery, procurement issues and the credibility of the sources:

Mapping out a complete picture of North Korea’s BW capability is limited due to difficulties in judging the credibility of sources. Furthermore, views and opinions are likely to be unconsciously biased to sensationalize stories in order to raise awareness. Since government assessments on North Korea’s BW program rarely disclose sources or include supporting analysis, the credibility of open source information is difficult to verify and the analysis difficult to replicate. Defector testimonies should be considered with caution. Much of the information on North Korea’s BW and its testing on human subjects originates from defectors. This source is valuable in that it provides clues for areas that need further investigation, but it should be noted that some defectors also have motives to exaggerate or fabricate facts either for money or to demonize the North Korean regime.

Read the full report HERE