What About . . . Weapons of Mass DestructionBy: Stephen Marsh
Not too long ago I did a series of posts about economic principles. I thought I would go on from there to address some military concepts and other things.
The first will be several posts explaining some basic facts about ABC (atomic biological chemical) weapons, starting with Chemical Weapons – useful only for committing war crimes and acts of genocide. It is easy to forget that Hitler had huge stocks of chemical weapons he never used in combat.
His only successful deployments were in committing acts of genocide. Saddam Hussein had significant stocks from time to time, yet as the war crimes trials in Iraq noted, the only significant use his government ever got of them was in committing acts of genocide.
The Taliban and the Russians both had access to the same chemical weapons. Neither got any significant use out of them at all. And as for the nerve gas assault on the Tokyo subway that made the news? The gas used is flammable and killed fewer people than if they had just lit the canisters on fire and thrown them into the crowd.
Part of the problem is the threshold – you usually don’t buy the weapons off the rack like you would with guns and bullets and anti-tank weapons (just visit Armada International — www.armada.ch — to read reviews of MBTs, coastal diesel submarines, etc. to get an idea of what is being sold “off the rack” to governments).
Thus, to begin with, you have to develop a chemical agent. Once you have one, you have to figure out how to deliver it. Both tasks take about ten years and developing delivery systems only works after you have the weapon. Then, after the twenty year lead, you have to find a way to deploy them effectively.
The rub comes in at every level. First, there are lots of poisons, but developing one that you can make, store and use takes more effort than you would expect. Then, there is deployment. Nerve gas seems pretty simple. But as the Tokyo subway incident shows, getting it to actually affect anyone is harder than it looks.
An acquaintance of mine, who specializes in ABC weapons and disarmament said she told her husband to only get her out of the shower next time when it was a “real” attack, once she saw the fatality numbers from Tokyo.
She referred to it as the pseudo-Sarin attack (it may have been nerve gas in canisters, but a real weapon would have killed thousands, not a couple score of people). Finally, there is the issue of getting the targets to sit still for the weapon’s use.
Not that there is not a huge market. The United States manufactures, uses, and sells more nerve gas products than the rest of the world combined. They are called “insecticide” and on a perfect day, against insects who don’t move out of the way, they work pretty well. But as many dictators have discovered, to use them against people you basically need to be able to line the people up in controlled areas using firearms.
By the time you are able to successfully use poison gas against them you could have already shot them hours (or days) before. Anything else in the way of targets and the wind blows your gas away, or on your own troops (the Russians, when doing maneuvers and training with fully geared and protected troops, considered 15% casualties in the practice troops a success).
The problems are severe enough that the end of Hitler’s war saw the Germans unwilling to use the stockpiled chemical agents. The benefit was never as great as the downside even when the downside was complete and crushing defeat.
Next I’ll cover Biological Weapons – good for shooting yourself in the foot and nuclear weapons – or a way to pay five times as much for half the result. Then we can move on to other topics, like why it is better to defend than attack, and other military facts. But if you have questions about WMDs, why people are so emotional about them, or why they are so useless, I’ll be glad to talk.