Non-Conventional-Weapons Proliferation in the Middle East: Tackling the Spread of Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Capabilities

By Efraim Karsh; Martin S. Navias et al. | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

When viewed in the light of historical experience, the fact that chemical weapons were not employed during the 1991 Gulf War appears far less surprising. Iraq's use of such weapons against Iran took place in a static conflict against ill-protected troops, with Iraqi air and artillery superiority, with no immediate prospect of Iranian retaliation, and with many outside powers tacitly taking Iraq's side, due to their fears of Iranian fundamentalism. Even then, Iraq limited its use of gas to critical tactical situations, and did not employ it against Iranian civilian targets.71 Small wonder that, in 1991, Iraq was neither willing nor easily able to use chemicals in a mobile war against well-protected forces, having lost command of the air, and facing the prospect of devastating retaliation either in kind or through an expansion of coalition war objectives to include the overthrow of the Ba'ath regime.72

This pattern of NBC use and restraint fits squarely with previous historical experience, and suggests that, even if NBC capabilities continue to spread within the Middle East, their actual employment in time of conflict is likely to remain severely circumscribed. Arguments that maverick leaders such as Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi will employ NBC weapons at the first opportunity are strikingly similar to earlier misplaced fears about the acquisition of nuclear weapons by communist China, and neglect historical counter-arguments, such as the fact that Hitler's Germany refrained from using nerve gas even when it was being overrun.

This having been said, it would be wrong to suggest that the spread of NBC capabilities in the Middle East would be a good thing, bringing to that region something of the deterrent stability which has prevailed among the great powers over the past forty years.73 Political instabilities and hatreds in the Middle East are deeper; hostile relationships are muitipolar rather than bipolar; and an unbridled emphasis on the building-up of deterrent NBC capabilities risks such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists or being assimilated by the various military forces to the point where they are used whenever militarily advantageous.

____________________
71
See Efraim Karsh, Ch. 2, this volume.
72
See Martin Navias, Ch. 3, this volume.
73
The classic articulation of this minority view is K. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May be Better (Adelphi Papers, 171; London: IISS, 1981).

-29-

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