Chemical-Biological Defense: U.S. Military Policies and Decisions in the Gulf War

By Marghella, Pietro D. | Naval War College Review, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Chemical-Biological Defense: U.S. Military Policies and Decisions in the Gulf War


Marghella, Pietro D., Naval War College Review


Mauroni, Albert J. Chemical-Biological Defense: U.S. Military Policies and Decisions in the Gulf War. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998. 226pp. $59.95

Although we lived with the dangerous specter of nuclear attack for more than fifty years during the Cold War, concerns about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have virtually exploded into our consciousness in the past decade. Since the demise of the former Soviet Union-once referred to as our "malefactor partner in the concept of mutually assured destruction"our fears seem to focus far less on the threat of nuclear holocaust, and more on the threat of attack by chemical or biological agents. The logical point of departure for this shift in focus seems to be the Persian Gulf War, when the world learned of a rogue nation seemingly bent on proliferating these weapons of mass terror.

In this book, Albert J. Mauroni attempts a historical recounting of U.S. efforts to deal with chemical and biological warfare agents on the modern battlefield. Mauroni, a former U.S. Army Chemical Corps officer who currently works as a management consultant specializing in Department of Defense chemical and biological defense programs, provides a detailed look at what was essentially a "cold start" go-to-war effort on behalf of the U.S. armed forces. The consistent premise throughout this work is that no one in the Department of Defense (with the exception of the Army's Chemical Corps) was even remotely prepared for an encounter with chemical or biological agents as it readied for war with Iraq. Convinced at the onset of Operation DESERT SHIELD that Saddam Hussein would indeed use WMD against U.S. and coalition forces, the Pentagon began what Mauroni describes as a "mad scramble" to train and equip U.S. forces to operate in the presence of WMD agents. He reviews the preparation to defend against exposure to these agents, and assesses U.S. efforts to protect its forces against a highly lethal asymmetrical threat. In addition, Mauroni devotes a chapter to the issue of "Gulf War illness," providing a fairly meticulous and forthright discussion of this controversial subject. He concludes with substantive recommendations on where the future focus of U.S. efforts to deal with the burgeoning threat of chemical and biological agents should lie. At a minimum, Mauroni's work at dissecting the policies and decisions of the Gulf War is important if only as a lesson that the United States must never again be so fundamentally ill prepared to operate in the asymmetrical environment.

There are criticisms to be made of this book, however. At the surface level, Mauroni uses far too many acronyms for the book to be easily decipherable for the non-Army (and especially nonmilitary) reader. Although he includes a list of abbreviations at the beginning to assist with the veritable "acronym soup" of abbreviations, it becomes confusing and tiresome to refer back constantly to a glossary to understand what one is reading.

Additionally, Mauroni's use of the term 11 chemical-biological" can lead one who is uneducated in the specific characteristics of chemical and biological agents to believe that there is no readily discernable difference between the two types of WMD agents. In reality, there is nothing farther from the truth. Chemical and biological agents are so different in their properties and potential effects on the human physiology that discussions about countering or mitigating their effects should remain separate. By consistently lumping them together, Mauroni gives the reader the impression that the measures taken for defense and consequence management against chemical-agent exposure will be essentially the same as those for coping with a biological threat. …

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