Two weeks ago, United Press International reported that a defected North Korean soldier possesses antibodies that protect against anthrax bacteria. Given that an anthrax infection boasts a 45 percent fatality rate even with aggressive antibiotic treatment, this discovery is a cause for concern for the U.S. military. It implies that anthrax could be used in a war with North Korea and underscores how United States troops are unprepared to face this weapon.

There are two potential reasons the North Korean soldier has anthrax antibodies. The first and less likely reason is that the young and “low ranking” soldier worked in the production of anthrax. However, given his reported age and rank, it is doubtful that he would be entrusted with anthrax production or handling. The cost of a novice mistake leading to a release of anthrax spores far outweigh the ease of relegating the task to an inexperienced soldier.

The second and far more likely reason a soldier has these antibodies is in preparation for a conflict in which anthrax might be used. Anthrax vaccinations are not standard for American troops, meaning that a North Korean anthrax attack on American troops would cause a serious medical emergency and ensuing retreat from the infected zone. North Korean troops, who are resistant to anthrax, could then take advantage of the vulnerability and advance with significantly less concern for infection complicating mission success.

A significant complication that underscores the lack of preparation for a North Korean anthrax attack is that the anthrax vaccination requires 18 months to become effective in addition to an annual booster. As of now, the only troops protected from anthrax are stationed in South Korea as per military guidelines. However, to win a war there, substantial troop increases would be necessary, and anthrax is something these troops would be unprepared to face.

If President Trump continues to use escalatory Twitter rhetoric toward the Kim regime, an anthrax vaccination program for American military personnel should be an immediate priority. If not, the president is risking a war for which his administration has not prepared the country’s military.