Arundel House, headquarters of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Strategic Studies

 

From Survival (January 1966) 8, no. 1, 36

Published by The International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, UK.

Weapon Delivery Systems

Letter to the Editor

Sir, - In the October issue of Survival you reprint an article from Studies in the Soviet Union by Malcolm Mackintosh on the Sino-Soviet dispute. He declares that China's recent acquisition of nuclear capability is at present only of 'prestige' value, since, to be effective militarily, a reliable delivery system is necessary. Might this not be the time, however, to re-examine some of our old ideas about delivery systems?

    The destructive range of a nuclear explosion may be so great that a submarine operating within enemy territorial waters would only have to activate weapons carried within itself to inflict unacceptable damage. Alternatively, a bomb combined with some system permitting activation at a later date might be left on the sea bed, or 'sabateurs with suitcases' might assemble a weapon on land.

    The main arguments against such systems stress the difficulties of the control of weapons so disposed, and the increased possibilities of accidental explosions. That the nuclear powers have not, as far as we know, indulged in such activities implies a tacit form of arms control in this respect.

    Whether these arguments would influence a power which had no other effective delivery system, but was able to select and train military personnel who had from early childhood been rigorously taught the virtues of their own national ideology and the evil of others, is questionable.

D. R. FORSDYKE

 

Bioterrorism

From Survival (January 1969) 11, no. 1, 69-70

Published by The International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, UK.

Book Reviews

We All Fall Down: The Prospect of Biological and Chemical Warfare. By Robin Clarke. London: Allen Lane. 1968. 201 pp. 35s.

This book aims to describe the current state of the art of chemical and biological warfare (CBW), its objectives, and the types of weapons which are or may become feasible. Such an aim might have been achieved with most accuracy by a person actually engaged in the subject: however, the result would probably have made rather dry reading. This book, written by a science journalist and directed to a wide audience contains a number of inaccuracies, but certainly does not make for dry reading.

    Many of the inaccuracies have been pointed out by another reviewer (see Nature, vol. 219, p. 537). Perhaps the most serious of these is the consistently repeated assertion that 'there is clearly no dividing line between C and B agents'. Upon this premise a number of arguments are based. However, a distinction may be made in the following way. A B agent possesses the ability to proliferate within the recipient organism, whereas a C agent does not. Only an infective dose of a B agent needs to be administered, whereas a full toxic dose of a C agent is required.

    There is an early chapter on the history of CBW beginning in 600 BC with the addition of helleborus roots to the enemy's drinking water to produce diarrhoea. Successive chapters review possible CW agents, possible BW agents, delivery systems, the use of CBW agents against animals and crops, legal and ethical arguments, and finally the control of CBW research.

    Cases for and against C and B weapons are presented. They increase military flexibility; they are the only agents able to achieve certain purposes such as winkling an enemy out of tunnels; some of them are more humane than conventional weapons; they do not destroy property; they are relatively cheap to produce and deliver; the by-products of research are useful; other countries are engaged in CBW research; the development of CBW research programs by small countries might cause them to refrain from the development of a nuclear capability.

    On the other hand, C and B weapons are often difficult to control; this makes it difficult to predict their effects either militarily or ecologically; sometimes they cannot be tested until they are first used in a war environment; difficulties of definition encourage a smooth escalation from relatively non-lethal agents such as tear gas, to those capable of killing within minutes; the weakest members of the population are the most susceptible; their use would break both formal and informal international laws.

    The titles both of the book and of individual chapters seem to be chosen more for their rather emotional headline value than for their information content. Clarity is important in a book of this nature which is likely to be translated and read by CBW personnel in other countries. We are advised at the start that the book is only for those who are prepared to consider the issues dispassionately. We are told that the emotional attitude to CBW 'has been mainly responsible for frightening the authorities into concealing their efforts in this area under cloak-and-dagger security'. The possiblity that 'the authorities' might have other important reasons for security in this respect is apparently overlooked. We are told elsewhere that the Germans refrained from using nerve gases in World War II for fear that the allies would retaliate in kind, but that in fact the allies did not have such weapons. Presumably only 'cloak-and-dagger' security prevented the Germans from knowing this.

    In places the book tends to be misleading. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has over 100,000 members from both industrial and academic scientific circles, most of whom are likely to have joined merely in order to subscribe to the Association's popular journal Science. We are given to understand that a resolution on CBW passed by the council of the Association is somehow representative of the academic scientific community. The book also implies that the director of the Microbial Research Establishment at Porton has not carefully thought out his position on CBW, yet this was far from the author's intention (see Nature, vol. 219, p. 879).

    Much of the book is concerned with the use of C and B weapons in some large-scale military conflict and relatively little emphasis is given to their use in guerrilla warfare, in sabotage, or by criminals. Little attempt has been made fully to explore possible scenarios involving CBW, or to predict, in a Wellsian manner, possible future developments in the field. The deterrent posture of a small country, (say North Vietnam) which might possess CBW weapons capable of inflicting 'unacceptable damage' on the population of an opponent possessing nuclear weapons, is one hypothetical situation which could usefully have been examined. The difficulties of detecting an attack with C and B weapons are examined, but again mainly in a conventional military setting. If a particular Presidential candidate caught influenza a few weeks before an election, or became marginally less cogent in his arguments, would many of us think of the use of influenza virus or a psychochemical by a saboteur?

    The issues involved in CBW are complex and an author might be forgiven if even after long study he had no practical proposals to make. In any case one would expect that any proposals made would be carefully examined as to whether they would help, or hinder, the present CBW position. It is thus rather startling to find at the very end of the book, delivered in the manner of an MP who knows that the debate has to finish a minute later, the following remarks: 'By denying their support to any classified defensive or to any offensive work, the scientific community could effectively remove the threat of massive chemical or biological warfare in the future. They could do it quickly. They could do it tomorrow. For let there be no mistake about this. No government can develop further weapons in this field without the help of scientists.'

D. R. FORSDYKE

Queen's University, Ontario

Some dates

1925. Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use in war of "asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices" and of "bacteriological means of warfare."

1942. Biological weapons program begins in USA.

1969. National Security Memorandum 35. USA President categorically renounces use of biological weapons, but allows research and development programs to continue, for defensive purposes. Later in year renounces the use of "toxins" whether produced biologically or by chemical synthesis. 

1972. Biological Weapons Convention

1973? Chemical Weapons Convention

1979. Sverdlovsk inhalation anthrax outbreak due to spores from local military research facility (USSR). At least 64 dead.

1984. The Dallas. Religious cult contaminates salad bars in The Dallas, Oregon, with Salmonella typhimurium with the aim of lowering voter turnout in an impending election. 750 people sick. 

2001. Inhalation anthrax in USA immediately after terrorist attack on Pentagon and World Trade Center.

2002. Smuggled weapons. New York is the most vulnerable US city with respect to nuclear weapons smuggled within the many shipping containers and trucks that enter the city (US Senator Charles Schumer declares; Globe & Mail. May 14th). "What I have learned about it chills you to the bone... We're virtually totally unprotected against such a device."

See also: Guillemin J (2005) Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism. New York,: Columbia University Press.

Two Unpublished Essays on Security Issues (Click Here)

More on Bioterrorism: Go to Rinderpest Page (Click Here)

To return to HomePage (Click Here)

Last edited 03 Jul 2006 by Donald R. Forsdyke