ICBMs carrying weaponized smallpox?

it’s not a knife it’s a tactical flashlight

I was reading this article from the New Yorker and it mentioned that the Soviets developed ICBMs designed to deliver and disperse a weaponized strain of Small Pox. I was wondering why?

If there was an all out nuclear war I don’t see how this would shift calculations like MAD that would guide how nations would react. It seems like if the Soviets could get an ICBM with a bio-agent past America’s missile defense systems they could also get an ICBM with a fifty megaton H-bomb through.

Equally, I don’t see what use it is in lower intensity conflicts. To radar and other systems it would look almost identical to an incoming nuclear weapon. If the Soviets called into the red line and said, “Don’t escalate the situation. Please trust us, we didn’t lob a nuke at DC it’s only weaponized smallpox.” I don’t think US leaders would have found that a compelling argument.

Delivering a bioagent with an ICBM makes no sense – it negates what would have been the weapons main advantages to the USSR: the possibility for deniability or false flag operations, modes of delivery that bypass missile defenses, and relative economy compared to ICBMs. It’s hard to imagine using such a horrible weapon except if there was an existential danger to the state, and nukes seem like a better option in that case. The effects of nuclear weapons are much more predictable as well as being immediate (if the Cold War had gone hot, it likely would all have been over before the onset of symptoms), there’s also less of a possibility of it rebounding on you and your allies.

Yet, the USSR went to great expense to develop this weapon system: refining the bio-agents, inventing a dispersal system, modifying an ICBM to deliver it, they even conducted test flights. Even in the context of national defense, all this seems like a significant expense. They were not, to my knowledge, matching a US capability. What am I missing? What strategic benefit did the Soviets see in developing this weapon?

submitted by /u/TheThirdDuke
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