WAR OF NERVES: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda

Article excerpt

WAR OF NERVES: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda, Jonathan B. Tucker, Pantheon Books, New York, 2006, 479 pages, $30.00.

Jonathan Tucker is a worldrenowned arms control expert in the fields of chemical and biological weapons who served as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq. His latest book, War of Nerves, is a comprehensive history of the most lethal class of chemical weapons: nerve agents. Military readers and scientists alike will marvel at Tucker's highly detailed account of the various agents' discovery, development, proliferation, and control. He successfully weaves together threads of history, science, and political security issues to produce an unprecedented account of modern history's most widely used Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Examples of compelling discussions include Hitler's rationale for not using nerve agents and the Soviet Union's clandestine development of Novichoks, an entirely new class of nerve agents.

Organized chronologically, Tucker's narrative begins with a description of the surprise release of toxic gases in the trenches of WWI. The focus then shifts to the accidental discovery in the 1930s of the first nerve agent, tabun, by a German chemist working on developing new pesticides for IG Farben, the chemical conglomerate. The Nazi military-industrial complex recognized tabun's utility and tasked IG Farben to develop and mass produce more toxic chemicals. The cold war saw the United States and the Soviet Union pursue a chemical arms race akin to the nuclear arms race. The two countries produced thousands of tons of nerve agents, and with their assistance, many developing states also created programs. …