Terrorism: February 20, 2003

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Recently, a man in Korea threw a small container of flammable liquid into a crowded subway train and killed over a hundred people. Ten years earlier, a man in Japan let loose a container of nerve gas in a crowded subway and only killed eight. Yet chemical weapons are more terrifying than explosives or fire. When chemical weapons were first used in warfare, the death rate among soldiers declined, but there was more terror and panic in the ranks. Because of that, the generals have never liked chemical weapons. And biological weapons are seen as a less reliable cousin of chemical weapons. The widespread use of chemical weapons in World War I was unpopular with the military commanders, as it hurt morale and made offensive operations much more difficult. The big beef with the brass when chemical weapons were outlawed in the 1920s was the uncertainty about everyone keeping their word. Even then, they were worried about rogue operators. Chemical weapons were too easy to make. During the Cold War, everyone in the U.S. military went through the motions of "chemical defense," and relied on nuclear retaliation to keep the Soviets from "going chemical." After 1991, Soviet archives revealed that the Russians felt they had to go chemical to have a chance of winning, and then everyone would lose when we went nuclear. You could say that the Soviets gave up out of despair. With Saddam, you prepare for the worst and hope for the best (with an assist from threats of "war crimes trials" for Saddam's flunkies who use the chemicals.) Terrorists have no such inhibitions. What they lack is the basic industrial capability to produce these weapons, they make up for in potential access to nations willing to supply chemical and biological weapons. Someone like Saddam can slip the terrorists untraceable chemical or biological weapons to exact "revenge." Players like Iraq and Libya have used terrorists to get their shots in before. Blowing up airliners or nightclubs is one thing, but doing a mass mailing of anthrax filled letters is something else. So you can see why George Bush and Tony Blair are upset about all this.

 

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