• are probably less effective against large-area targets, where large industrial facilities and transportation systems are required to manufacture and move the required materials.
       The current programs in chemical defense in the DoD are focused on cold-war programs, and these may be concerned with the wrong threat, or perhaps a threat with a low probability relative to threats growing from attacks on the United States through low-intensity conflict intended to achieve its ends by causing popular dissatisfaction, politically unsupportable levels of casualties, and unacceptable expense.

  • Scaling to Bulk Production. The production of chemical agents is not difficult technically (relative to either biological and nuclear weapons), but obviously requires care if the operators of the processes are not to kill themselves and their immediate neighbors. Any country capable to a moderate level of industrial activity (for example, Iraq, Iran, N. Korea, Libya, etc.) can make them, and do so in bulk. Terrorist and insurgents apparently have not been able to make the more advanced agents (or the safer but more technically sophisticated binary weapons), or have not chosen to do so.
  • Medical Treatment and Sequella. Very little is known about the long-term sequella in human health resulting from exposure to chemical agents. Agents developed early in the history of this class of weapons (phosgene, chlorine) damaged and killed tissue, but otherwise seemed not to have hidden effects. The nerve agents have the reputation of paralyzing muscle by blocking the activity of acetyl cholinesterase, but also clearly influence this and related enzymes in other tissues, and especially in the brain; this kind of activity is presumed to be the basis for the seizures that result from exposure to nerve agents. The nature of damage to the brain and central nervous systems, and to other tissues that use acetylcholinesterase, or that react with organophosphates, is not well understood, nor is its duration or long-term consequences. If neurological damage is severe, prolonged, and expensive, the long-term care of exposed populations—both military and civilian—needs to be examined and optimized to avoid ruinous expense.
  • Innovation in Chemical Weapons. There has been little innovation by insurgents or terrorists in the development of chemical weapons, but that fact should be only cold comfort. Explosives are more familiar, and weapons based on explosives (IEDs, EFPs, suicide bombers) have been effective, very cost effective and innovative. Chemical weapons (even simple one) provide an unfamiliar and somewhat more difficult technical barrier to

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement