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Biological Warfare Essay, Research Paper

Most of the literature on the possible terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction has focused on nuclear terrorism. Scholars and the ordinary civilian are well aware of certain aspects of nuclear threat. On the contrary, comparatively little information can be acknowledged in the public regarding the possible use of chemical agents or warfare. This has resulted in numerous publications by professional scholars on the subject of chemical terrorism and why terrorist might resort to such weaponry. How much do we really have to know about this form of terrorism? How realistic is “chemical terrorism?” The first part of the paper will provide an answer to the severity and realness of chemical terrorism, using a factual analysis and commentaries, on a situation, which occurred in the Tokyo subway system. Furthermore, it will briefly progress into the rippling effect that this crisis had on the rest of the world. The second part of the paper will explain what factors or characteristics of chemical terrorism might incline terrorist, such as Aum Shinri Kyo, to their use or threat of use. In other words, why do some terrorist resort to chemical warfare? Moreover, what are some of the major concerns that the world faces in reaction to the proliferation of chemical terrorism?

Japan has long enjoyed the enviable reputation of being one of the safest nations in the world. According to the Japanese Times, the country has one of world’s lowest rates for murder and other violent crimes. The Japanese National Police Agency and local Police forces are often praised as a model of efficient law enforcement. Furthermore, Tokyo enjoys one of the cleanest, safest and most proficient subway networks in the world. All that would change on March 20, 1995. A nightmare unfolded as the city of Tokyo experienced one of the worst terrorist attacks of the century. This is what many considered to be the first true case of the use of chemical agents by terrorists in a major attack on civilians.

Many of the passengers found it strange that a man who got on at the last stop was wearing sunglasses, but soon dismissed him, remembering how safe the subways and their homeland have always been. Well, they were mistaken. By the time anyone became suspicious, many people on the train were coughing. Those near enough to see the package and the clear liquid seeping from it began feeling dizzy and many were bleeding from the nose and mouth.

This was not the only train car to receive such a dangerous package. This and four similar incidents took place at about the same time on three major lines of the Tokyo subway system (Marunouchi, Chiyoda, and Hibiya) on March 20, 1995. The five packages were disguised to look like lunch boxes or soda containers and it was reported that the chemical agent used was an impure or dilute solution of sarin, a nerve agent developed by Nazi Germany during the ’30’s. The result was twelve people dead and over five thousand injured. The station where all the cars were gathering, Kasumigaseki, was located in the heart of Tokyo’s government area, which is quite close to many ministries, and the National Police Agency Headquarters (NPA). Thus, some commentators came to conclude that the attack was targeted at NPA officers. Furthermore, some commentators evidently anticipated that the Tokyo attack was a “prelude” to the issuing of demands by the criminals (the criminal being unknown at the time, but was later proclaimed to be Aum Shinri Kyo). Kyle Olson told ABC Nightline: ” My sense is that this group is either operating with motivations we cannot understand, or possibly hasn’t reached the point where they have made their big play.” Commentators were also surprised at the fact that the casualties were not great, given the toxicity of sarin and the nature of the target. Others suggested that the agent was simply impure. Perhaps it was deliberately diluted for either the self-protection of the attackers or to keep the number of fatalities low.

Almost one month later, on April 19th, more than 400 subway riders in Yokohama were sent to local hospitals suffering from irritated eyes, respiration problems, and dizziness. In July, four more incidents occurred, renewing fear throughout Japan. This was the beginning of a frightening future for the modern world. “Organized and indiscriminate murder” on a large scale was clearly possible and chemical weapons were likely to be a terrorist’s vehicle for mass destruction. The threat of terrorist use of chemical weapons was now causing social unrest and hysteria. The attack in Japan, Israeli terrorism expert Yonah Alexander reports, “had global and local implications. It was a quantum and surprising leap to terrorism by mass destruction.”

The bombing of the Tokyo subway, at its least, had global implications. In fact, it caused mass hysteria throughout the world. The world was obviously familiar with chemical weapons as means of warfare, but they were not accustomed to a terrorist’s usage of chemical weapons to promote ideology and/or radicalism. The attack on the Tokyo subway system had a major impact on the home front of Japan along with the international community. In its aftermath, Japanese social commentators were quoted saying that “the attack had produced a national crisis and fundamentally altered the mood of Japanese basking in economic success and sure their society was free of the crime that curses the West.” The government immediately came under criticism for having failed to move sooner against Aum Shinri Kyo or to solve the earlier cases of sarin poisoning. Later that month, fear of a possible chemical attack led to the mobilization of up to 60,000 police officers throughout Japan. Police investigation and security measures drastically increased as the fear of terrorist action became more evident. Everybody in the country was talking about what was going, which in turn caused social unrest and everyday fear.

Japan’s crisis and fear created a chain reaction abroad. Security was tightened in subway systems in different cities such as New York, Washington, Milan, Rome, and especially the South Korean cities, particularly, Seoul. Seoul thought as them as a target because two days after the Tokyo attack, a similar innocent occurred when ten people were taken to a hospital because of mystery fumes from an office building. Thankfully, it turned out to be a backflow of carbon monoxide from a boiler room vent. Frenzy spread from the highly, populated urban sector to the quiet, rural farms. Paranoia set into most countries because terrorist organizations were importing chemicals to clandestine areas where they would then engineer and produce their weapons. These reactions were only inevitable, as innocent civilians were faced with a world crisis, never knowing who or what would strike next.

Why did Aum Shinri Kyo resort to chemical terrorism? In other words, through a terrorist’s eyes, what are the advantages of chemical warfare? An extensive selection of chemical weapons exhibiting distinctiveness and ambiguity is the reason why this form of weaponry makes them favorable for terrorist use. There are many more advantageous reasons for terrorists to use chemical weapons rather than conventional ones, and the disadvantages that do exist seem quite minute. In general it seems that the chemical weapons may become a key component in the terrorist arsenal. If this is the case and chemical terrorism is left unattended to, then the world’s population may soon be living under a dark cloud of constant fear: the fear being that any crazy person, terrorist, or activist group has the potential to commit random acts of brutal mass murder at a low cost and relatively low level of risk to themselves.

The use of chemical agents proves to be very advantageous to the terrorists who use them. Physically and compositionally, chemical weapons are unique, or in other words, exhibit qualities which conventional weapons lack. Overall, they are intense and severe weapons. Other advantages include the limited capability of anti-terrorist groups of detecting such weapons, the low cost and little technology needed to develop chemical weapons, and moreover, their extremely frightening image and the overall efficiency of such weapons. (The following will go more in depth)

One of the difficulties, which has long plagued chemical warfare defense, is the lack of effective detection. Very few chemical warfare (CW) agents can be reliably detected when in use. Furthermore, these substances are virtually impossible to detect while being contained in a confined area. This lack of ability to detect CW agents makes it ideal to transport and conceal due to their clandestine composition and nature.

Chemical weapons have long been considered “the poor man’s atomic bomb” due to their relative low cost and ease of being manufactured. This is supported by a group of experts who said “for a large-scale operation against a civilian population, casualties might cost $2,000 per square kilometer with conventional weapons, $800 with nuclear weapons, $600 with nerve-gas weapons and $1 with biological weapons.” The argument that chemical weapons were too difficult for most terrorists to manufacture was discredited when a CIA report “concluded that clandestine production of [chemical and biological weapons] for multiple casualty attacks raises no greater technical obstacles than does the clandestine production of chemical narcotics or heroin.” These factors make chemical weapons attainable, not only to well-funded terrorist groups, but also to any disgruntled ordinary person.

Another factor, which makes chemical weapons such an appropriate, justifiable and effective weapon for a terrorist, is the mere terrifying nature of their existence. Ever since the first use of chemical weapons they have been criticized and ridiculed by civilians and soldiers alike. They’ve been considered unconventional, uncivilized, and even gruesome. These adjectives have also been employed often when describing terrorists. In general terrorists thrive off of the high “shock factor” of their activities. Therefore, the use of chemical weapons may “enhance” many terrorist groups’ images.

The final advantage offered by chemical weapons is their enormous ability to inflict casualties. These weapons are extremely “cost effective and 40 times more weight effective than conventional explosive weapons.” The overall efficiency of a CW agent combined with all of the previously mentioned advantages make a frighteningly inexpensive, undetectable, and efficient super weapon.

On the contrary, there may be serious disadvantages to the use of chemical terrorism. As with other forms of terrorism, there are flaws and pessimistic outlooks on the viability of its cause. Terrorists, regardless of their methods, will encounter some of these disadvantages, and most are unique to chemical weapons. One of the major disadvantages of chemical weapons includes their terrifying and deadly nature, which may counter-affect their cause. Because of serious harm inflicted, there may be an increased effort in retaliation from anti-terrorist forces. Some type of retaliation can be expected from the victimized group. The severity of that victims’ reaction depends on several factors. The first factor to consider is who the victim is. For instance, any terrorist activity in the United States is responded to with remarkable force and speed, as was seen with the reaction to the bombing of the World Trade Center. The same can be assumed in any major country. Also the method of the attack will contribute to a victim’s response. In general, the more severe an attack is, the greater the chance the retaliation might feel more powerful. However, in reality, the overall impact of this retaliation on the terrorist group is probably going to be about the same.

Not only must a terrorist group consider the political disadvantages associated with the employment of chemical weapons, but there are also a few minor technical problems to overcome. The most obvious of these technical difficulties is the method of obtaining the necessary chemical agents. This, however, is not as difficult as it may seem. One way to acquire chemical weapons is to manufacture them. As quoted earlier, small groups or individuals frequently manufacture a variety of narcotic substances secretly. These people easily overcome difficulties similar to those encountered in the manufacturing of chemical weapons. So, the answer to the question, of whether or not the development of chemical weapons is within a terrorist’s ability, is yes.

Another way for terrorist groups to get chemical weapons would be to purchase them abroad or on the black market. They can either be purchased from an illegal source, such as from a former Soviet state or from a sympathetic third world country. Since the disintegration of the former-Soviet Union, the black market for military goods has increased significantly. The Soviet Union had and its former republics possibly still might have a large stockpile of chemical weapons (Russia has most of them though).

As a result of illegal chemical purchasing, the media and public have also overlooked the serious threat of chemical weapons being sold. This is due largely to the overpowering fear of the sale of nuclear material or devices. Even a NATO officials proclaimed that he was “more concerned about chemical weapons” falling into terrorist hands. There is undoubtedly a real threat of chemical sales throughout the world. National sympathizers who may support the causes of terrorism are usually the ones who fund these “death projects.”

Illegal purchase is not the only way terrorists can acquire a chemical agent. Many industrial chemicals are closely related to chemical weapons; in fact several industrial chemicals were even employed as chemical weapons during World War I. Chlorine and phosgene were both used extensively by both the German, British, and French during the war. Although these substances are far less lethal than the nerve agents, they are quite common and have “many legitimate industrial applications.” Even more frightening is the fact that entire classes of industrial chemicals are of a highly toxic composition. These are the organophosphates; in fact this is also the class of chemical to which sarin (GB) and VX belong. These chemicals are commonly used as insecticides and include parathion, an insecticide notorious for the threat it poses to those who use it. However, The lethal doses for the industrial chemicals of this class are in generally ten to fifty times higher than those of the military agents. Once a terrorist group has decided to use chemical weapons and has obtained them, the final obstacle is to effectively use them without causing harm to themselves. This is merely an engineering feat, which would pose little trouble to most of the terrorist groups at their current technology level. A government study even reported that “the level of technological sophistication required [for effective use of chemical agents] . . . may be lower than was the case for some of the sophisticated bombs that have been used against civilian aircraft.” In this age of increasing education and booming technology, it is much easier to find the necessary technical and mechanical assistance for any project, legal or otherwise.

Now that the world has progressed so far that mass destruction is within reach of a far greater percentage of the population, the likeliness of an incident involving weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical weapons, is much greater. The future holds many developments in store for the civilized world, when it comes to terrorists and chemical weapons. The threat is real and deadly.

Many events are taking place, whether they be political or social, which will contribute to the spread of this chemical plague. This has caused concern throughout the world. One concern regards chemical weapons alone. The development of binary weapons and the further proliferation of these weapons to nations sympathetic to terrorists may cause a huge corrupt and dysfunctional planet. This was almost the case with the invention of nuclear weapons. Another concern includes the nature and rapid evolution of terrorism. Because of an increase in terrorist activity, and due to the crackdown by anti-terrorist forces on traditional methods, there has been a drastic increase in new warfare. The modern day terrorist is now susceptible to chemical warfare, as seen in the Tokyo subway incident.

Recent events have made chemical weapons even more desirable to a terrorist. The first is the development of the binary weapon. This is a chemical weapon in which the agent is stored as two precursor chemicals which only nee d to be combined to form the final lethal product. This reduces the risk that a terrorist must face in the storaging and transportation of their weapons. It also reduces the threat of accidental exposure upon dispersal of the agent. If the chemical device is engineered correctly, with some sort of time delay, the terrorist could be long gone even before the lethal agent is made.

Another concern about chemical terrorism is the fairly easy ability to spread chemicals to third world countries, which may, in turn, support terrorist. “Iran, Iraq, Libya, N. Korea and Syria all listed by the State Department as supporters of terrorism are believed to posses some capability for chemical and biological warfare.” The Chemical Weapons Conference has reduced the proliferation of chemical weapons and, in fact, made it illegal to develop and stockpile chemical weapons. Although, the amount of chemical agent necessary for a terrorist operation would be extremely difficult to detect and can even be justified by claiming it as research material.

Aum Shinrikyo provided a wake-up call about the need to reassess where the real security threats lie in the new era. While the congress’ throughout the world plan to use billions of dollars for a “crash program to defend against sophisticated ballistic missiles, terrorist groups have chosen a more prosaic game plan.” Aum Shinri Kyo took advantage of two facts. First of all, the formula for nerve gas and blister agents are well known. Secondly, the ingredients for these weapons are readily available because they can be used to make legitimate everyday products. These circumstances, which bring chemical weapons well within the reach of a terrorist group, also make it very difficult to control the proliferation of chemical weapons.

It is safe to now assume that there has been a breach in the invisible barrier, which has kept terrorists from using chemical weapons in the past. The CIA has warned that if this barrier were breached by “one successful incident involving such [lethal] agents [it] would significantly lower the threshold of restraint on their application by other terrorists”. This barrier was composed of fear and uncertainty. The terrorists were afraid of the consequences of such a weapon and the danger to themselves. Furthermore, they were uncertain of the success of such an attack. Now, after the sarin attack in Japan in March of 1995, it is obvious how effective a small amount of chemical agent is at tying down a subway system, injuring thousands of people, and enraging people all over the world. The threat was indeed real. This essentially opened the door to a whole new form of effective and advantageous terrorism.


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