Is the U.S. prepared for a chemical
or biological weapons attack?
February 11, 1998
in this forum:
Would bombing weapons sites in Iraq release dangerous agents into the atmosphere ? How much information is being disseminated via the Internet? What are the first symptoms of contact with a biological agent? How will this threat affect the design of cities and homes?
April 22, 1997
President Clinton wants the Senate to ratify the Chemicals Weapons Treaty, a document that that would ban some of the world's most dreaded killing agents.
November 11, 1996
Were U.S. soldiers exposed to chemical weapons during the Gulf War?
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of military.
The Journal of the American Medical Association has looked at biological weapons from a medical point of view.
Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute
Stephen W. Kizer of Mesa, Arizona asks: We have the technological capabilities to destroy any country in the world. Any nation or terrorist group is quite well aware of this. I believe that other countries are trying to develop new weapons because they are afraid of us. Rather than develop expensive defense mechanisms, shouldn't we work with the rest of the world in a mass disarmament effort?
Dr. Kathleen Bailey responds:
Stephen, other countries are developing chemical and biological weapons (CBW) for a variety of reasons, but primarily because they want to defend against or be aggressive toward a neighboring country. India developed chemical weapons because it has ongoing disputes with Pakistan and China; Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran and its own Kurdish citizens. Thus, it is not accurate to say that fear of the United States is the motivation for countries to acquire CBW. However, you are right that these countries may use CBW against the U.S. if our troops enter their region or become involved extensively in their affairs.
You ask why we don't work toward disarmament rather than developing defenses. Actually, we are working toward disarmament. The Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force last year, bans possession of CW and the Biological & Toxin Weapons Convention does so with regard to BW. The problem is, these agreements are not verifiable. We do not have any technical tools to be absolutely sure that no one is cheating. This is because CBW can be made in very small facilities, just like Aum Shinrikyo-the Japanese cult that used nerve gas in the Tokyo subway-did. The fact that U.N. inspectors have been unable to find all of Iraq's hidden CBW, despite years of inspections, makes the point that these weapons are easily hidden and readily moved.
An analogy might be appropriate here. If you cannot be sure that criminals do not have guns, then you should not disarm the police. We cannot be sure that other countries do not have CBW. Thus, it would be foolish for us not to have some defenses. Because the United States has forsworn the use of CBW, our only defenses are conventional and nuclear. We plan to use the former if possible, but reserve the right to use the latter if absolutely necessary to deter CBW attacks.
Larry Johnson responds:
Your basic point about the need for a multilateral disarmament effort is sound but I disagree that fear of the United States is the driving force for developing weapons of mass destruction in places like Libya, Iraq, and Iran. I believe self-interest remains the major driving force in international relations. That, in my view, is one of the reasons Iraq did not use chemical or biological weapons during the Gulf War. Saddam and his cronies feared the possibility of a retaliatory strike that could include nuclear weapons. In this regard I think Iraq is more concerned about having such weapons to deal with a longstanding enemy like Iran than to confront the United States.
I want to return to your broader concern about "mass disarmament." According to President Clinton's recent statements, UNSCOM has uncovered and destroyed more weapons of mass destruction in six years than were destroyed during the Gulf War. Assuming that a substantial portion were destroyed during the war this suggests, in my view, that the Iraqi capability has been seriously damaged. However, the latest public posture of the U.S. suggests that the threat has gotten worse. This opens up several possibilities--
1) it is not worse but we pretending it is,
2) it is worse and UNSCOM has been ineffective,
3) it is unchanged but our leverage over Saddam has slipped.
The heart of the issue is reducing the number of chemical & biological weapons in the Middle East and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This requires a multilateral effort that beyond Iraq and encompasses Iran, Pakistan, India, and Israel.
Creating a credible policy thrust in this direction is difficult but ultimately is the direction we need to move.