International Handbook on Chemical Weapons Proliferation

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

Appendix B
Chemical Weapons Production Technology and the Conversion of Civilian Production

It is often claimed that CW agents can be produced just about anywhere. But that is far from true. While the technology for mustard and nerve agents is well known (if not widely published), some of the critical equipment and production steps are rare for the civilian chemical industry.1 Hence, a new producer of such agents would have to build new production plants or extensively alter existing ones. To hide his purpose, equipment would have to be convertible from covert to legitimate use (and back) in a short time, or parts of the production sequence would have to be hidden at other locations -- in either case generating suspicious activity. This appendix does not claim to show that covert production or cheating on a future treaty are impossible, but it will show that any such evasive activity would be quite difficult.

Following an introduction to the basic literature on the subject, the necessary considerations in an open CW agent production program are outlined. Then some of the myths perpetuated in rumors concerning clandestine production programs are discussed. Finally, there is a review of the best available information on convertibility, including how some of the basic components of a production program may be obscured.

Primary emphasis here is on the most toxic group of nerve agents -- sarin/ soman and VX. Tabun and mustard are also discussed.2 The industrial chemicals which found use as major CW agents in the First World War -- chlorine, hydrogen cyanide, and phosgene -- are not discussed, nor are other toxic chemicals, except as they are used to synthesize the nerve agents. Such chemicals, and numerous others of similar toxicity, will be present in any country with a basic commodity chemical industry, but their military utility is considered to be low. It is recognized, however, that this may reflect the narrow view of countries with effective military CW defenses. Other countries may see such "outdated" agents as real security threats;3 they might also be concerned by the fact that mustard

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