Global Instability and Strategic Crisis

By Neville Brown | Go to book overview

6

Macabre lethality

Lethal gases and toxins

The deliberate spreading of disease or toxic substances is a stratagem viewed in all cultures as peculiarly ugly and depraved. Traditional mores may allow a bedouin, say, to make off periodically with an adversary's camels but never to pollute his wells. The roots of this particular proscription may lie in how, during the interminable aridity of the late Pliocene (several million years ago), our hominid ancestors were constrained to leave a shrinking rain forest to resume the survival struggle on the less crowded but desperately parched African plains.

The taboo against recourse to poisoning in war has often been codified. The Greeks and Romans saw it as a violation of ius gentium, the law of the peoples. Poisons and other weapons considered inhumane were outlawed by the Manu Law in India c.500 BC; and among the Saracens twelve centuries later. The Dutch scholar/statesman Hugh Grotius adopted a similar stance in 1625 in his seminal The Law of War and Peace.

Still, no taboo is unbreakable. In 400 BC, Scythian archers dipped arrowheads into decomposing bodies. But uniquely dreadful in its consequences was a decision by Tartars besieging in 1346 the Genoese port of Kaffa in the Crimea to catapult corpses over its walls. The bubonic bacillus thus spread into Kaffa from whence it travelled to Genoa by sea and from there overland around Europe. The lucid French chronicler Jean Froissart reckoned 'a third of the world' died in the resultant Black Death.


The gas era

In terms of twentieth-century experience, however, poison gases are prior to biowarfare despite their having been formally renounced at the Hague Convention of 1899. Germany introduced them on to the battlefield in 1915, her aim being to break the gridlock of trench warfare in France. Horrific though the accounts of gas bombardment are, perhaps 90 per cent of the one million gas casualties on all sides (1915-18) appeared to make a full recovery. Admittedly there may well be a difference between

-100-

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Global Instability and Strategic Crisis
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • The Author ix
  • Preface xi
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Part I - The Strategic Revolution 1
  • 1 - Through 11 September 3
  • 2 - The Poverty of Strategy 32
  • 3 - A War on Terror? 45
  • 4 - Saddam, Slow Decline and Rapid Fall 59
  • Part II - Limited World War? 71
  • 5 - Social Instability 73
  • 6 - Macabre Lethality 100
  • 7 - The Ascent of the Missile 122
  • Part III - Defence Against Missiles 131
  • 8 - Ballistic Encounter 133
  • 9 - Terrestrial Coverage 156
  • 10 - The Heavens Subverted? 163
  • Part IV - The Quest for Strategy 181
  • 11 - Pax Atlantica? 183
  • 12 - Arms in Moderation 197
  • 13 - Planetary Internationalism 217
  • 14 - Strategy Transcended 243
  • Appendix A 265
  • Appendix B 272
  • Further Reading 279
  • Notes 281
  • Index 303
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