CHARACTERISTICS OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS

  • Traditional Chemical Weapons. The majority of chemical weapons were developed in the period spanning WWI and WWII. Although simple agents (e.g., phosgene, chlorine, mustard) were effective against stationary, poorly protected troops in WWI, they were almost not used in the interwar period or in WWII (Italy in Ethiopia being a counterexample), and were judged by the United States to be inefficient for land warfare in the hypothetical conflict with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, however, reached a different conclusion, and continued to develop both chemical and biological weapons. One possible use was considered to be as a tactical weapon to slow the tempo of operations of an opponent in maneuver warfare; a possible second use was to be in combination with biological weapons as a method of attacking survivors and remaining industrial capability after the physical destruction of cities.
  • Evolved Chemical Weapons. The chemical weapons now of greatest concern are nerve agents and mustards, with a number of other agents—some not originally considered as weapons—also of interest and concern. The nerve agents have been highly developed, in a substantial variety of forms, with some having problematic characteristics for current equipment. Both nerve and mustard agents have the characteristics that survivors of chemical injury can require prolonged and expensive care, and thus may place a burden and expense on the force supporting them.
  • Advanced Weapons. There are a number of newly considered nerve agents that have characteristics that require rethinking, both in terms of treaty restrictions, surveillance, detection, and protective gear. These agents are problematic, but we know about them, and we know their structures. Potentially as problematic are compounds that have not been considered (or not yet been considered) as weapons. The history of the pharmaceutical industry is full of compounds that are highly toxic, and design parameters for a new weapon are easily imagined (pick an essential receptor present in low concentration and antagonize it; pick an organ whose damage is life threatening or incapacitating—e.g., lung, heart, retina, pancreas—and develop a drug toxic to that system). It is worrisome that we still do not know/understand all that the Russians were doing, although we know that they had—or claimed to have—interests in a number of types of compounds that we had not actively developed in our programs in chemical weapons. Further, biology has progressed so extraordinarily


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