Find a Security Clearance Job!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


CSC 1984 SUBJECT AREA National Military Strategy CHEMICAL WARFARE IN FUTURE MILITARY OPERATIONS The Writing Program Command and Staff College Commander Robert W. Adams, MSC United States Navy April 6, 1984 Chemical Warfare in Future Military Operations Outline Chemical agents will play a significant role in future military conflicts, because their tactical and strategic effectiveness out weigh existing legal and moral restraints. I. Introduction A. Horrors of Chemical Warfare B. Treaties 1. Hague Agreement 1899 2. Geneva Protool 1925 II. History of Development A. Lewisite B. Porton Downs and Edgewater Arsenal C. Germany - Nerve gas III. Types of Chemical Agents A. Choking B. Blood C. Blister D Nerve E. Others IV. Delivery Systems A. Projectiles B. Others C. The Binary Concept V. Chemical Agent Use A. British - Afghanistan B. Japan - China C. Morocco D. Abyssinia E. World War II F. Vietnam G. Soviets - Afghanistan H. Iran - Iraq War VI. Conclusion As the spring day of April 22, 1915 drew to a close, the Allied soldiers were entrenched around the small village of Langemarck, near Ypres, France. A few hundred yards away across the no man's land, the 23rd and 26th German Army Corps were crouched in their trenches. The German bombard- ment had momentarily stopped, and the Allies, French reserv- ists and Algerians, enjoyed the soft cool breeze that had recently sprung up. At 5:00 p.m. the Germans began another artillery barrage. High explosive shells pounded Ypres and surrounding villages. The allies around Langemarck saw greenish yellow clouds rise from the enemy lines and slowly move toward them carried by the light breeze. The clouds of gas were chlorine, released from 6,000 cylinders spread out along the four mile German front. As "the breeze stirred again, one hundred and sixty tons of it, five feet high and hugging the ground, began to roll towards the Allied trenches".1 What happened next was one of the most frightening and horrible experiences ever faced by men at war. The acrid green cloud enveloped the soldiers and they began to cough, clutch at their throats and gasp for air. The chlorine gas produced an immediate inflammation of the bronchial tubes and lungs. Massive amounts of fluid blocked their windpipes. Many turned blue and fell to the ground dead. Others panicked and ran, only later to be caught by the cloud and stopped dead in mid-flight. Those who were able to escape stumbled, coughing and choking, into first aid stations where doctors and other medical personnel were unable to provide any effective medical treatment. The gas and artil- lery attack had killed 5,000 men and injured 10,000 more. The Germans had opened a four mile gap in the Allied front. Chemical warfare had begun. "The feelings of shock and outrage produced by this first gas attack were compounded by the fact that poison gas was specifically outlawed by international law."2 The Hague Declaration of 1899, with Germany a signatory, prohib- ited the use of projectiles the object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases. The Germans insisted that by using gas cylinders rather than projectiles, they had avoided breaking the Hague agreement. As horrible as it was, the gas attacks were to continue for the remainder of the war. Chlorine and other agents developed by both the Germans and the allies, claimed over 1.3 million wounded and 91,000 dead. Professor Fritz Haber, pioneer of gas warfare, upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1919, made a statement that has and will continue to haunt all of mankind, In no future war will the military be able to ignore poison gas , he predicted, for it is a higher form of killing. Many people will argue that "the 1925 Geneva Protocol, an international treaty that puts poison gas in a special category of horror and commits its signatories--now just about everybody--to avoid its use", 3 has and will continue to be an effective ban to chemical agents. I do not believe this to be true. An examination of warfare, since the signing of the treaty, reveals chemical agent development and use up to the present day. What is even more alarming, is the apparent escalation and proliferation of chemical warfare in the last five years. Chemical agents will play a significant role in future military conflicts, because their tactical and strategic effectiveness outweigh existing legal and moral restraints. The end of the first World War brought with it an increase in research and development of chemical warfare agents. Phosgene and mustard, developed and used by the British in World War I, were to signal the start of this ultimate weapon race. In 1918, a team based at Catholic University, Washington, D. C. discovered Lewisite.4 A blister agent, it was faster acting than mustard gas and caused "immediate excruciating pain in the skin, and sneezing, coughing, pain and tightness in the chest on inhalation, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting." 5 These developments were followed by improve- ments of earlier discovered agents. Hydrogen mustard, phosgene oxime, hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride and others came out of the super secret laboratories such as England's Porton Downs or the United States' Edgewater Arsenal. In 1936, however, Dr. Gerhard Schrader, a German scientist researching organic phosphorus compounds for a more effective insecticide, came upon a series of poisons that "were as great an advance over the chemical weapons of the First World War as the machine gun was over the musket."6 Tabun, the first nerve agent; caused numerous lethal symptoms in laboratory animals, acted rapidly, was colorless, practically odorless, and could poison the body by either inhalation or penetration through the skin. While it is not the purpose of this paper to make the reader an expert in chemical warfare agents, a short explana- tion of the various common types may be in order at this time. The U. S. military services identify four major categories of agents: Nerve, Blister, Blood and Choking. Each of these categories contain agents which cause different symptoms, and have a different effect on the human body. Choking agents are volatile gases, such as Phosgene or Diphosgene, which are colorless. They, like the earlier mentioned chlorine gas, cause the symptoms of coughing, choking, nausea and headache, and effect man by damaging and flooding the lungs. The rate of action is immediate to three hours after exposure. First aid includes avoiding movement, keeping warm and assisting in respiration, if necessary. Blood agents, such as hydrogen cyanide or cyanogen chloride, are a vapor producing liquid which, when inhaled, cause convulsions and coma and are generally lethal. For example, hydrogen cyanide is normally utilized in this country's prison gas chambers. Its rate of action is rapid and, like the choking agents, is non-persistent because of its vola- tility. First aid consists of inhaling amyl nitrate and arti- ficial respiration if necessary. Blister agents, such as mustard, nitrogen mustard, and Lewisite, are oily, often viscous liquids which cause eye irritation and stinging of the skin initially followed in hours to days by blistering of the skin, destruction of the respira- tory tract and temporary blindness. Because of their viscosity, they can remain on the ground and on objects to contaminate persons weeks, or even months, after application. First aid consists of decontaminating the skin, as soon as possible after exposure, with a decontamination kit or warm soapy water. Nerve agents are of two major types, the G-agents, such as Tabun, Sarin and Soman; and the V-agents, such as VX which is a thickened G-agent. It is interesting to note that Sarin is about ten times as powerful as Tabun, and Soman (currently being manufactured in great quantities by the Soviets) is several times more powerful than Sarin. Nerve agents can be distributed as a liquid, aerosol spray or vapor. As previously mentioned, they are rapid acting causing difficulty in breathing, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, dim vision, and muscular twitching First aid treatment is atropine injection, artificial respiration and rapid skin decontamination. In addition to these four major categories of agents, there are several others which are significant because of their use as chemical warfare agents in recent military conflicts. These include defoliants (agent orange), tear or riot gas (CS), and toxins (mycotoxins, yellow rain). There are a variety of delivery systems utilized for chemical agents. The nerve gas artillery shell, such as the American 121 series of 155-mm projectiles, have been in produc- tion since the middle 1950's. This shell, containing approxi- mately six pounds of chemical may be detonated as an air burst by use of a proximity or time fuse. The nerve agent is atomized into a cloud of small droplets which are inhaled by the lungs or settle on the skin. Other methods of delivery include hand grenades, mortar shells, bombs or helicopter spray units. Mines utilizing a persistent agent, such as nitrogen mustard or VX, may be utilized to deny certain terrain to the enemy, thereby restricting his movement. Tactical missiles, such as the Soviet SCUD-B, may contain either bulk agents or small bomblets which are dispersed over the target. A recent development in delivery systems is the binary concept. First proposed by the U. S. Army in 1954, it is the idea of keeping two harmless agents apart until delivery, at which time they are mixed forming the lethal agent. The Army has spent approximately 100 million dollars to develop the 155-mm artillery projectile which contains the non-persistent nerve agent Sarin (GB) and the XM-736 8-inch howitzer round containing the persistent VX agent.7 Each shell contains two canisters, separated by rupture discs, which fracture on firing. Needless to say, this concept solves many of the pre- vious problems associated with chemical weapons including handling and storage hazards, and container corrosive hazards. Historical accounts of military conflicts since World War I would lead us to believe that chemical weapons use was non- existent for legal or ethical restrictions, or for fear of retaliation. Matthew Meselson, a noted biochemist, quoted in CBW Chemical and Biological Warfare, published in 1968, states that "there have been only two instances of verified poison gas warfare since 1925--in Ethiopia and in Yemen." 8 A preponderance of evidence, however, now exists to indicate that there have been numerous instances of chemical warfare use in military conflicts since World War I. This information has only recently become available, because of the high degree of classification of this sensitive subject. In 1919 in India, stocks of phosgene and mustard gas were sent out from Britian for use on the frontier. "The Royal Air Force is alleged to have used gas bombs against the Afghans. By 1925, the French and Spanish were employing poison gas in Morocco, and it had become clear that chemical warfare had found a new role, as a tool by which major powers could police rebellious territories."9 These two allegations, although not backed by specific governmental records, have been cited in several well researched texts on chemical warfare history and use. In 1933, the Japanese established The Army Chemical Warfare School at Narashino, twenty-one miles east of Tokyo. The eleven month course ran for twelve years and turned out over 3300 chem- ical warfare officers for the Japanese Army. "There is little doubt that from 1937 onwards, the Japanese made extensive use of poison gas in their war against the Chinese."1O They were alleged to have used mustard gas to drive Chinese peasants from caves and tunnels. This was witnessed by a large number of people including a British surgeon who treated a number of the gas casualties. In 1938, China made a formal protest to the League of Nations. In 1935 and 1936, after the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, over 700 tons of mustard gas was shipped there for use by the Italian Air Force. Torpedo shaped 500 lb. bombs, with a time fuse, were utilized. These bombs burst about 200 feet above the ground, scattering spray over a considerable area. Later- aerial spraying was the preferred method. "Groups of 9 to 15 aircraft followed one another so that the liquid issuing from them formed a continuous fog...soldiers, women, children, cattle, rivers, lakes and pastures were drenched continually with this deadly rain." 11 As a result, over 15,000 Abyssinians were killed or wounded by chemical weapons during this war. The non-use of chemical warfare agents during World War II is looked upon by many as an example of the effectiveness of international legal (Geneva Protocol) and moral restrictions. After all, this major world conflict offered many opportunities for poison gas use. Why then wasn't it utilized? For a variety of reasons, I believe, none of which were influenced by the legalities or ethics involved. In the case of the allies, it was mainly because they were not nearly as well prepared as the Germans and they realized it. They knew from various intelligence sources that Germany had thousands of tons of a variety of types of chemical warfare agents stockpiled. Also, they were aware of the development of the nerve agent (Tabun), although they were unable to duplicate it in their own laboratories. In addition, Americans also feared that the Japanese possessed large stocks of poison gas. This later was determined to be untrue. It is interesting to note that public opinion polls in 1944 suggested that as much as 40% of the American population favored the use of chemical war- fare agents against the Japanese. Newspaper headlines shouted support of this concept: "We Should Gas Japan' (1943); 'You Can Cook 'Em Better With Gas'(1944); 'Should We Gas the Japs?' (1945)." 12 In the case of the Germans, the reasons for non-use are more complex. They had the capability of producing over 12,000 tons of poison gas every month. They were believed to have had over 70,000 tons of Tabun and two types of mustard gas stockpiled The German high command's view of moral actions, as exemplified by their treatment of Jews and other minorities, was certainly not a restricting factor. Why then did Hitler not order its use? "The reason he failed to do so probably had much to do with a conversation at the Wolf's Lair, his headquarters in East Prussia, back in May 1943. After the collapse at Stalingrad, both Speer and his chemical warfare expert, Otto Ambros, were sum- moned to a special conference by Hitler to discuss using gas to stem the Russian advance. Ambros began by saying that the Allies could out-produce Germany in chemical weapons. Hitler interrupted to say that he understood that might be true of conventional gases-'but Germany has a special gas, tabun. In this we have a monopoly in Germany.' Ambros shook his head. 'I have justified reasons to assume that tabun, too, is known abroad.' According to Ambros, the essential nature of tabun and sarin had been disclosed in technical journals as long ago as 1902, and like many other German scientists he could not believe that the chemical warfare experts of Porton Down or Edgewood Arsenal had failed to develop them. Whether Ambros genuinely believed that the Allies had their own nerve gases, or whether he was merely trying to put off Hitler, the result was the same: Hitler turned on his heel and abruptly left the meeting. From that moment on, no matter how tempted he felt to use his secret gases, Hitler had always to balance in his mind the conviction of his scientists that the Allies had them too." (13) In November 1966 began the most extensive use of chemical warfare agents since World War I -- the Vietnam conflict. Directed against the environment, rather than people, the defoliants utilized (agents: Green, Pink, Purple, White, Blue and Orange -- named after the color of the containers they came in) were very effective in stripping away the dense protective jungle cover which facilitated enemy ambushes. Although not specifically prohibited by the Geneva Protocol, there are many who today feel that the massive amounts used by the American forces resulted in tragic human consequences. Agent Orange contained minute amounts of the extremely poisonous sub- stance, dioxin. Although the amount of dioxin contained within a dose of agent orange was miniscule, and would not affect humans, the cumulative effects of the large scale sprayings may have had some residual, long-term effects, such as cancer and birth defects, on those who were exposed. There can be no doubt that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a brutal act violating norms of civilized conduct among nations. Most nations have condemned the Soviet military for trying to impose its will on an independent people. In addition to the conventional savagery, including massacres of non-combatants and destruction of food crops, there is no doubt that chemical weapons are being used by the Soviets to accomplish their objective. Although denied by the Soviets, there is abundant evidence to document the facts that, since the summer of 1979, agents such as blister, lethal nerve and recently discovered trichothecene toxins (mycotoxin) have been used. This evidence is from a wide variety of sources and includes testimony from hundreds of eye witnesses to attacks, testimony from those who have attempted to treat the victims, photographic evidence including film footage shot by a Dutch journalist showing a Soviet helicopter dropping canisters that produced a yellow cloud and an analysis of numerous physical samples. Defectors report rocket, aerial spray and bomb attacks that caused death within minutes and caused the flesh of victims to soften, and decompose within a few hours after the attack. A report from Secretary of State, George Shultz, stated that "We have information that both phosgene oxime and tabun are stored by the Soviets in Afghanistan."14 The Afghanistan war has been a very difficult one for the Soviets. They are much more deeply involved than they antici- pated or hoped to be. Fighting the mujahidin on their own mountainous terrain is extremely difficult. Use of chemical agents have given the Soviets a tactical advantage. They are able to disable or kill many of the independent fighters, terrorize the sympathetic civilian population and deny key terrain to the Afghans. It is not surprising that the Soviets took the calculated gamble of introducing chemical warfare into the conflict. First, I believe that they felt they would not be caught. Secondly, I believe they felt that, if it was discovered, not much would be done about it. Unfortunately, this has essentially turned out to be the case. It appears that the Soviet Army will continue to use chemical agents in Afghanistan to gain tactical advantage without incurring the wrath of the international community. The most current, if not the most blatant, use of chemical weapons is occurring in the almost four year-old Iran-Iraq war. An international team of military and medical experts conducted a six day investigation on behalf of the United Nations. In a report released by that international body on March 26, 1984, was the unanimous finding that both mustard and nerve agents in the form of aerial bombs had been used in Iran. 15 Iraq has been embroiled in this most costly war for almost four years. During that time, the once prosperous nation has expended more and more of its assets until they now are on the verge of bankruptcy. Still they face hordes of Iranian troops, many of them children, who pour across the border on a daily basis. To the Iraqi's, the use of chemical weapons appears to be a viable alternative to defeat. While stopping short of admitting to using chemical weapons, Iraqi Defense Minister, Adnan Khairullah has stated that his government would use "any weapons at our disposal in any manner we feel necessary."16 What is even more disconcerting is the reaction (or lack thereof) of the international community to this obvious dis- regard for legal and ethical standards. A "foreign military official" is quoted in Patt Derian's article in The Washington Post as commenting that "the relatively low casualty rate caused by Iraq's usage indicates, in a crudely pragmatic sense, that 'it may not be such a big deal.'"17 Also quoted in the same article is an unnamed diplomat who stated "if you're prepared to violate the Geneva Convention, then the use of this gas may seem like a sensible, if controversial, military solution."18 Michael Berlin's article on the United Nation's investigation goes on to say that "a majority of council members (U. N. Security Council), including the United States, the Soviet Union and France, have been perceived as tilting toward the Iraqi cause in the Persian Gulf war, and some neutral diplomats felt they might have reservations about an outright condem- nation."19 These and other comments quoted in recent articles reflect something less than moral outrage on the part of the international community. It is clear to me (and should be to the reader) that the above mentioned instances of chemical warfare use, and the international reactions to that use, is a clear indication that the existing legal and moral constraints have lost their effectiveness. Chemical weapons are a cheap way to kill people. They have a devastating effect on morale, and they accomplish their objective without the destruction of buildings, equip- ment or land. These advantages, when weighed against the political consequences incurred by the use of chemical weapons, come out victorious everytime. Former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Patt Derian, summed it up so well when he said: "The United Nations stretches along the East River and yawns. Diplomats and military officers shrug and say it's no big deal. Statesmen/humanitarians we have not any.... It's a sorry story. And sad."20 FOOTNOTES 1Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982) p. 1. 2Ibid, p. 5. 3Editorial: "Iraq's Chemical War", The Washington Post, 11 Mar 84, p. c6. 4Harris et. al., op. cit., p. 32. 5Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), The Problems of Chemical and Biological Warfare, (Stockholm, 1971), Vol. I, p. 50. 6Harris et. al., op. cit:, p. 54. 7Hugh Lucas, "Binary Chemical Warfare Weapons", Jane's Defence Weekly, Vol. 1, No. 4., 4 Feb 84, p. 149. 8Steven Rose, CBW Chemical and Biological Warfare, (Boston, Ma.: Beacon Press, 1968), p. 45. 9Harris et. al., op. cit., p. 44. 10Ibid., p. 48. 11SIPRI, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 44. 12Ibid., p. 32. 13Harris et. al., op. cit., p. 64. 14George P. Shultz, Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan: An Update, 7 Nov 82, p. 5. 15Michael J. Berlin, "United Nations Team Says Chemical Agents Used in Gulf War", The Washington Post, 27 Mar 84, p. Al and A18. 16Patt Derian, "Mustard Gas and Child Martyrs", The Washington Post, 20 Mar 84, p. A23. 17Ibid., p. A23. 18Ibid., p. A23. 19Berlin, op. cit., p. A18. 20Derian, op. cit., p. A23. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bay, Charles. Chemical Warfare and the Military Balance. Studies Institute, USA War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa: 15 May 78 Berlin, Michael. "U. N. Team Says Chemical Agents Used in Gulf War", The Washington Post, 27 Mar 84, pp. A1 and A18 Calvert, Jack. Chemical Weapons: Problems and Policy Formulation. Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa: 20 Dec 81 Department of Defense. Continuing Development of Chemical Weapons Capabilities in the USSR, October 1983 Derian, Patt. "Mustard Gas and Child Martyrs", The Washington Post, 20 Mar 84, p. A23 Harris, Robert and Jeremy Paxman. A Higher Form of Killing. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982 "Iraq's Chemical War", The Washington Post, 11 Mar 84, p. C6 Lucas, Hugh. "Binary Chemical Warfare Weapons", Jane's Defence Weekly, Vol. I, No. 4, 4 Feb 84, p. 149 Rose, Steven. CBW Chemical and Biological Warfare. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968 Shultz, George. "Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan: An Update". U. S. Department of State Special Report No. 104, Nov 1982 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The Problems of Chemical and Biological Warfare. Stockholm: 1971



NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list