North Korea has developed a substantial arsenal of biological weapons that could be a bigger threat than its nuclear arms, it has been reported.
Experts have warned that the country’s nuclear programme has been a distraction from its capability of spreading anthrax, smallpox and other deadly diseases.
Scientists say US president Donald Trump’s administration have paid too little attention to the biological threat, as he gears up for another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The New York Times reported that the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey has found that North Korea is working with foreign researchers to learn biotechnology skills.
“North Korea is far more likely to use biological weapons than nuclear ones,” Andrew Weber, a Pentagon official in charge of nuclear, chemical and biological defence programmes under President Barack Obama, told the newspaper.
“The programme is advanced, underestimated and highly lethal.
“We are definitely underinvested in countering North Korea’s chemical and biological threats.”
Mr Weber added: “We are playing catch-up, especially on the biological side.”
The research in Monterey suggested that North Korea has jointly published at least 100 research papers with foreign scientists, and that these “have implications for military purposes, such as developing weapons of mass destruction”.
Pyongyang is believed to have at least 13 different biological warfare agents that could be weaponised, including anthrax, smallpox, plague, typhoid and yellow fever, it was reported by the Roll Call news website last year.
The Daily Telegraph reported that South Korea believes its neighbour has “produced and stockpiled as much as 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons and has the ability to produce a further 2,000 tonnes a year”.