International Handbook on Chemical Weapons Proliferation

By Gordon M. Burck; Charles C. Flowerree | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Chemical Warfare Capability

The word "capability" is used frequently in allegations about the chemical weapons status of countries.1 Many press reports and official statements create the impression that merely an industrial capacity to manufacture nerve gas or toxic industrial chemicals constitutes a chemical warfare (CW) capability (see Appendix B). But that is misleading; barrels of chemicals are only a small part of a full military capability to wage CW2 and by themselves constitute only a very limited capability. Still, there is no unique definition of what constitutes a CW capability. What was sufficient for Iraq in its war with Iran would not be regarded as satisfactory for a more sophisticated military power. Consequently, it is important to consider the specific characteristics of the "capability" possessed by suspect states. As Julian Perry Robinson has asked:

The UK possesses several dozen kilograms of nerve gas in bulk storage and provides sophisticated anti-chemical protection for its armed forces; some of its police forces are equipped with CS weapons, as are some army units. Belgium has a hundred or so artillery shells filled with sarin. Stocks of mustard gas are said to remain in Hungary from World War II. The Federal Republic of Germany is host to several thousand tonnes of chemical munitions owned and controlled by the USA. The list can be extended. In what sense can these countries be said to possess a CW capability . . . ?3

This section describes the elements of a sophisticated military CW capability,4 as exemplified, if not perfected, by the United States and the Soviet Union.5 It then explores variations that might be seen in countries suspected of possessing chemical munitions. The emphasis is on ground forces, most likely to be involved in CW (outside of Europe), rather than on the more vulnerable air and naval forces, which would only be involved a rung or two up the escalatory ladder (in a European war or even in the Middle East).

-3-

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