Proliferation of Weapons

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Chapter 7
Proliferation of Weapons


Proliferation means growth or multiplication. The proliferation of powerful weapons around the world is a source of great concern to U.S. national security. These weapons include conventional armaments such as military-type guns, bombs, and missiles, and the more lethal weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), which are based on nuclear, chemical, and biological technologies. U.S. goals for non-proliferation (or counterproliferation) include stopping the development of new weapons, reducing and safeguarding the stockpiles of existing weapons, and preventing the spread of WMD technology, particularly among enemies of the United States. The greatest threat to national security is believed to be the acquisition and use of WMDs by terrorists and rogue nations (nations that ignore international restrictions on weapons proliferation).


Most nations of the world are heavily armed with conventional weapons. A handful of developed nations, including the United States, possess highly advanced conventional weapons that are enhanced by sophisticated technologies, such as laser guidance systems. The effectiveness of these weapons was demonstrated by the U.S. military in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War against Iraq. The United States has become a major supplier of conventional arms to its allies around the world. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides an annual report to Congress on the proliferation of conventional arms. In Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 19992006 (September 26, 2007,, Richard F. Grimmett of the CRS notes that the value of worldwide conventional arms transfer agreements between governments in 2006 was nearly $28.8 billion. This value was down slightly from $31.8 billion in 2005. In 2006 U.S. arms sales accounted for $10.3 billion, Russia had $8.1 billion in sales, and the United Kingdom had $3.1 billion in sales.

Grimmett lists in U.S. Arms Sales: Agreements with and Deliveries to Major Clients, 19992006 (December 20, 2007, the major clients for U.S. arms sales between 1999 and 2006. The top ten purchasers of delivered arms in 2006 were:

Unconventional weapons are those that use nontraditional means to reap destruction and death, primarily nuclear technology or the release of chemical or biological agents. Small numbers of these weapons are capable of killing vast numbers of people; hence, they are called weapons of mass destruction. The proliferation of WMDs is governed by many international agreements that have been brokered by the United Nations (UN). Therefore, the United States is most concerned about the threat posed by WMDs in the hands of rogue nations and terrorists.


In Registry of Conventional Arms (2008,, the UN divides major conventional weapons into seven categories: battle tanks, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack

helicopters, warships (including submarines), armored combat vehicles, and missiles and missile launchers.

Most national militaries are equipped with many, if not all, of these weapons. Except for some missiles and missile launchers, the weapons listed are generally large in size and difficult to conceal from foreign intelligence services. As such, the extent of most national conventional weapons arsenals is fairly well known.


Missiles are the latest generation of projectile weapons. Their evolution began in the 800s with the invention of gunpowder by the Chinese. Over the following centuries explosives technologies were employed on the battlefield in guns, cannons, and bombs. World War II (19391945) ushered in the modern missile age. During the early 1940s Germany developed the most sophisticated rocket program in the world. At its helm was a brilliant young man named Wernher von Braun (19121977). His team developed the rocket-powered Vergeltungswaffens (weapons of vengeance; they were called V weapons, for short). Thousands of V rockets rained down on England during the war. Following World War II the United States and the Soviet Union began researching the feasibility of attaching war-heads to long-range rockets capable of traveling halfway round the world. These weapons could be equipped with conventional or nuclear warheads.

The Arms Control Association (ACA) is a U.S.- based nonprofit organization that supports arms control. According to the ACA, in the fact sheet Worldwide Ballistic Missile Inventories (September 2007,, thirty-two countries possessed ballistic missiles in 2007. Ballistic missiles are powered and guided during part of their flight. Then they enter a free-flight stage during which their trajectories are determined by natural forces, such as gravity and atmospheric effects. According to the ACA, the ranges of ballistic missiles are:

  • Short rangeless than 1,000 kilometers (km; 621 miles)
  • Medium range1,000 to 3,000 km (621 to 1,864 miles)
  • Intermediate range3,000 to 5,500 km (1,864 to 3,418 miles)
  • Intercontinentalgreater than 5,500 km (3,418 miles)

The ACA notes that only seven countries were believed to have intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2007. Those countries were the United States, China, France, Israel, Russia, the United Kingdom, and possibly North Korea.

In July 2006 North Korea fired seven unarmed missiles toward the Sea of Japan. One of the missiles is believed to have been an intermediate-range ballistic missile; however, it failed after approximately forty seconds and fell into the sea. The other six rockets were short-range missiles. U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has possessed nuclear warheads for its missiles since 2003.

man-portable air defense systems. Man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) are more commonly called shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile systems (SAMS). They fire short-range surface-to-air missiles that are typically 4 to 6.5 feet (1.2 to 2 m) in length and only a few inches in diameter. Combined, a missile and its launcher can weigh less than 60 pounds (27 kg). Thus, a MANPADS can be carried and fired by a single individual and is easily transported and concealed. These qualities make them attractive weapons for terrorists and guerrilla fighters. However, MANPADS are difficult to aim with precision and shoot relatively slow-moving missiles. As such, they have limited effectiveness against most military aircraft.

In the fact sheet MANPADS: Combating the Threat to Global Aviation from Man-Portable Air Defense Systems(July 31, 2008,, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) describes the U.S. government concerns about the threat posed by MANPADS to civil and commercial aircraft. According to the DOS, in 2002 rebels in Kenya fired two MANPADS at a civilian airliner in an attempt to shoot it down. The missiles missed the airliner, which was a Boeing 757 that had nearly three hundred people onboard. In the late 1990s in Africa three airliners were shot down by rebels using MANPADS, killing sixty-three people. In 2007 a cargo aircraft over Somalia was shot down with a MANPADS, killing the crew of eleven people. Figure 7.1 is a map compiled by the DOS showing the locations of MAN-PADS attacks on civilian aircraft since 1975. Most have occurred in central and southern Africa.

The DOS notes that U.S.-led efforts have resulted in the destruction of more than twenty-six thousand MAN-PADS around the world. Nearly six thousand of these units were in the government stockpile of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The United States has received commitments from dozens of countries to destroy thousands of obsolete or unneeded MANPADS to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists.


The Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (2008, entered into effect in 1983. It restricts certain conventional weapons considered to have particularly horrific effects. The Convention on Conventional Weapons (as it is commonly called) originally had three protocols that covered weapons producing fragments not detectable in the human body by x-rays; land mines, booby traps, and related devices; and incendiary weapons (weapons purposely designed to start fires or cause burns). In 1995 a fourth protocol was added to control the proliferation of

laser weapons designed to permanently blind their victims. In 2003 a fifth protocol was added that requires bound parties to clear and destroy unexploded ordnances left over after a conflict has ended. As of September 2008, that protocol had not entered into force. A protocol goes into force six months after at least twenty nations have agreed to follow the protocol. Also, as of September 2008, the United States was a party to only the first and second protocols of the convention.

The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies (2008, is a multilateral agreement established in 1996 that concerns the export of conventional weapons and dual-use (military and civilian) technologies of a sensitive nature. The arrangement replaces the older Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom), which had been in place since the 1940s. The sole purpose of CoCom was to prevent the export of weapons from Western nations to the Soviet Union and its allies. The end of the cold war in the early 1990s precipitated the new agreement for which the stated purpose is to promote transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies, thus preventing destabilising accumulations. Participating States seek, through their national policies, to ensure that transfers of these items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities which undermine these goals, and are not diverted to support such capabilities. The United States is a party to the Wassenaar Arrangement.


On August 6, 1945, a uranium-fueled bomb nicknamed Little Boy was dropped by a U.S. military plane onto Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later a plutonium-fueled bomb called Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, forcing a Japanese surrender and ending World War II.

U.S. atomic bombs had been developed by scientists engaged in the Manhattan Projecta top-secret program

that included research and development facilities in Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Hanford, Washington. Even though the United States and the Soviet Union were wartime allies, Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945) and Harry S. Truman (1884 1972) decided to keep the Manhattan Project a secret from the Soviets. It was thought this concealment would prolong the development of Soviet nuclear weapons that could one day threaten the United States. When the Soviets detonated their own atomic bomb in 1949, U.S. officials were stunned but soon discovered that some Manhattan Project scientists and conspirators had passed important research and development information to the Soviets.

A series of sensational trials were held during the early 1950s for the so-called atomic spies, and one pair Julius Rosenberg (19181953) and Ethel Rosenberg (19151953)were sent to the electric chair for espionage. For over three decades skeptics claimed the atomic spy trials were a product of anticommunist hysteria, which was common during the cold war. However, later findings from the Venona decryption project and declassified Soviet documents revealed the massive extent of espionage conducted during the Manhattan Project and seemed to validate the convictions of the Rosenbergs and other spies of the era.

One legacy of the cold war was the development and stockpiling of thousands of nuclear weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union. In A Guide to the Nuclear Arms Treaties (July 1999,, David B. Thomson states that by 1950 the United States had approximately eight hundred nuclear warheads in its arsenal. In 1961 the Soviets conducted nuclear tests in the atmosphere. The United States responded with its own atmospheric tests. The rest of the world watched uneasily as the two great superpowers seemed to edge closer and closer to a nuclear showdown. A crucial event in the nuclear arms race occurred in 1962: the Cuban Missile Crisis. U.S. intelligence agencies discovered the Soviets had installed nuclear missile facilities in Cuba, only 90 miles (145 km) from the U.S. coast. President John F. Kennedy (1917 1963) confronted the Soviets. He imposed a naval blockade around Cuba and demanded that the nuclear facilities be removed. After a suspenseful twelve-day standoff the Soviets complied. It proved to be a turning point in the cold war, as the two nations began negotiating treaties on limiting the testing and proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Club

By 1964 there were five nations in the so-called nuclear club: the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China. Before the end of the decade an important multilateral nuclear treaty had been signed by dozens of nations. The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT; 2000, acknowledged the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and included the following provisions:

  • No transfer of nuclear weapons or nuclear-related technical assistance from a nuclear state to a non-nuclear state
  • No manufacture of nuclear weapons by nonnuclear states or acquisition of the weapons or associated technologies from nuclear states
  • Acceptance by nuclear states of safeguards overseen and verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA, an international agency established in 1957) to prevent conversion of peaceful nuclear energy projects to nuclear weapons development; these safeguards also apply to transfers of peaceful-purpose nuclear materials from nuclear states to nonnuclear states

NPT Outsiders

In the decades since the NPT was developed, several other nations have tested (or are believed to have tested) nuclear weapons and refused to join or comply with international agreements governing safeguards and verification procedures. These rebel members of the nuclear club are India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea. In regards to the NPT, these countries are not officially considered nuclear states. North Koreas nuclear program is described in detail in Chapter 6.

INDIA. In 1974 the world was stunned when India conducted its first test of a nuclear weapon. The United States had been sharing nuclear energy technology with India since the 1950s. It is believed that Indian scientists were able to use this peaceful-purpose technology to develop a weapons program. India has refused to sign the NPT, claiming that the treaty is discriminatory. The U.S. response to Indias test was the Nuclear Non-proliferation Act of 1978, which put strict restrictions on the transfer of any nuclear technology to nonnuclear-weapon states. At the international level the United States spearheaded the creation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a body designed to oversee nuclear transfers for peaceful purposes and ensure they are not converted to weapons purposes.

Paul K. Kerr of the CRS notes in U.S. Nuclear Cooperation with India: Issues for Congress (July 30, 2008, that the United States was so angered by Indias deception in 1974 that it refused to provide any nuclear cooperation to India for twenty-five years. In 2005 President George W. Bush (1946) reversed this policy by announcing a new nuclear partnership between the two nations. This was followed by passage of the Henry J. Hyde United

StatesIndia Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006. The United States intends to support Indias civilian nuclear energy projects. The move is controversial because it will require loosening of U.S. laws governing nuclear technology exports. Kerr acknowledges criticism from observers that the new partnership undercuts the basic bargain of the NPT. It is feared that the United States bypassing of NPT restrictions will encourage other nuclear states, particularly China, to do likewise.

ISRAEL. In 1986 the Sunday Times of London claimed that Israel had been secretly developing nuclear weapons for several decades. The information and some related photographs were provided by the Israeli Mordechai Vanunu (1954), who had worked at the Dimona nuclear reactor facility in the desert of southern Israel. Vanunu had traveled to England to expose the nuclear weapon activities at the facility. He was subsequently kidnapped by Israeli intelligence agents and returned to Israel, where he was convicted of treason and sentenced to eighteen years in prison. Vanunus story is detailed by Olenka Frenkiel in Israeli Nuclear Power Exposed (British Broadcasting Corporation, March 16, 2003). He was released from prison in 2004.

In the article Nuclear Weapons (January 8, 2007,, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) notes that U.S. officials suspected an Israeli nuclear weapons program was in operation as early as the 1960s but chose to remain silent for political reasons. Israel has steadfastly refused to confirm or deny that it operates such a program or has nuclear weapons. The FAS estimates that as of 2007 Israel possessed between one hundred and two hundred nuclear weapons in its stockpile.

pakistan. Pakistan and India are neighbors and bitter rivals. They were once one territory under the rule of the British Empire. In 1947 the nation of India was created from the mostly Hindu eastern portion of the territory. The smaller and mostly Muslim nation of Pakistan emerged from the western portion. The two countries have clashed for decades over a disputed northern region called Kashmir. India, Pakistan, and China have conflicting claims on this region and have engaged in several wars over the dispute. India and Pakistan battled in 1947, 1965, and 1971. The last war resulted in the creation of an independent countryBangladeshfrom eastern Pakistani territory. That war, and Indias nuclear test in 1974, spurred the development of a Pakistani nuclear weapons program. Pakistan conducted its first test of a nuclear weapon in 1998. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) reports in Proliferation: Threat and Response (January 2001, that Pakistan has refused to sign the NPT unless India follows suit.

A key figure in the Pakistani nuclear weapons program has been Abdul Qadeer Khan (1935)a European-trained scientist with expertise in uranium enrichment. He moved to Pakistan in the mid-1970s. The FAS states in Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons (December 11, 2002, that Khan reportedly used plans he had stolen from Europe to jump-start Pakistans nuclear weapons program at a facility in Kahuta. The FAS also claims that Khan used a secret network of conspirators to acquire the materials and technologies needed for the program.

In Pakistan-U.S. Relations (August 25, 2008,, K. Alan Kronstadt of the CRS indicates that in late 2002 the Western press began linking Khan to the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to nonnuclear states. Even though Pakistan initially denied the reports, a U.S. government investigation subsequently revealed that Khan and other scientists had been conducting independent proliferation activities. In February 2004 Khan made a public apology confessing to his involvement in a network that sold nuclear weapons technology and materials to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Because Khan was a popular and well-respected figure in Pakistan, he received a presidential pardon for his role in the scandal. The former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf (1943) has repeatedly denied that his government had any knowledge of Khans illicit nuclear activities.

The U.S. governments initial reaction to the Pakistani nuclear test in 1998 was to impose restrictions on nonhumanitarian aid to the country. These restrictions were eased over time and removed completely in late 2001, when Pakistan becameakeyallyintheUnitedStatesglobalWaronTerror.

Nuclear Weapon Treaties

Over the following decades the United States and the Soviet Union, along with other nations, did manage to agree on some limits on nuclear testing and weapons proliferation. In Treaties and Agreements, in which the stated U.S. position was: The search of science for the absolute weapon has reached fruition in this country. But she stands ready to proscribe and destroy this instrumentto lift its use from death to lifeif the world will join in a pact to that end. The Baruch Plan proposed strict UN oversight of all nuclear activities around the world to ensure that nuclear power would be used for peaceful purposes, rather than for weapons development. Suspicious of U.S. and UN intentions, the Soviet Union refused to agree to the plan.

Over the following decades the United States and the Soviet Union, along with other nations, did manage to agree on some limits on nuclear testing and weapons proliferation. In Treaties and Agreements,

the DOS provides a list of nuclear weapons treaties and agreements to which the United States is a party. The following are just a few of the treaties cited in this list. The dates in parentheses denote when the treaties were ratified by the United States.

  • Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963)officially called the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and under Water, this treaty requires nuclear tests take place underground, where radiation and fallout can be prevented from spreading widely. Over one hundred nations are parties to the treaty.
  • Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (1968)prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons, materials, and related technologies from nuclear states to nonnuclear states. It allows for verification procedures by the IAEA. Over 180 nations are party to the treaty.
  • Threshold Test Ban Treaty (1990)this treaty between the United States and Russia prohibits nuclear tests with a yield greater than 150 kilotons. Originally signed in 1974, its ratification was delayed for many years by technical issues related to verification techniques.
  • Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (1972), Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (1991), and Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (2002)these treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union (later Russia) committed the two nations to limit, and then reduce, their enormous arsenals of nuclear weapons. The most recent treaty, Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, calls for a reduction to around two thousand deployed strategic nuclear warheads for each nation by the end of 2012. This treaty is also commonly known as the Moscow Treaty.

Another significant agreement was the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (1988;, which required the destruction of ground-launched missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 km (311 to 3,418 miles) and their associated launchers and support equipment.

U.S. Nuclear Stockpile

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicates in Nuclear Weapons: Views on Proposals to Transform the Nuclear Weapons Complex (April 26, 2006, that the U.S. nuclear stockpile from the cold war contains many old and obsolete weapons systems that need to be replaced or destroyed. The stockpile includes many weapons that are, or soon will be, three decades old. The National Nuclear Security Administration is an agency within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) responsible for overseeing U.S. nuclear weapons facilities. These include four nuclear weapons production facilities in Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, and South Carolina; three national weapons laboratories in California and New Mexico; and the Nevada Test Site at which nuclear weapons were tested during the cold war.

Figure 7.2 shows the nations nuclear weapons stockpile for various dates between 1990 and 2005 and projected for 2012 in accordance with the Moscow Treaty. There were just over four thousand nuclear weapons in the stockpile as of January 2005. That number is expected to be reduced to less than twenty-two hundred by 2012. Figure 7.3 shows the number of deployed delivery systems for strategic nuclear

warheads in the U.S. stockpile between 1990 and 2005 and the projected number for 2012. Less than one thousand delivery systems are expected to be on hand by 2012.

Besides nuclear weapons, the government is also concerned about the security of the nations nuclear reactors, particularly the small reactors that are operated for educational and research purposes. In January 2008 there were thirty-seven so-called research reactors in operation. (See Table 7.1.) The four reactors operated by the DOE are located at highly guarded government laboratories in Idaho, Tennessee, and New Mexico. Of more concern are the thirty-three research reactors regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and located at universities and research institutions around the country. The GAO recommends in Nuclear Security: Action May Be

TABLE 7.1 Locations of operating U.S. research nuclear reactors, January 2008
* One megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts. On average, 1 kilowatt is the amount of power that is needed to operate a typical U.S. household for 1 hour.
SOURCE: Adapted from Table 1. Location, Fuel Type and Power Level of Operating U.S. Research Reactors, in Nuclear Security: Action May Be Needed to Reassess the Security of NRC-Licensed Research Reactors, U.S. Government Accountability Office, January 2008, (accessed August 5, 2008)
Advanced Test ReactorINL, Idaho
High Flux Isotope ReactorORNL, Tennessee
Annular Core Research ReactorSNL, New Mexico
Neutron Radiography ReactorINL, Idaho
National Institute of Standards and TechnologyGaithersburg, Maryland
University of Missouri, ColumbiaColumbia, Missouri
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridge, Massachusetts
University of California, DavisSacramento, California
Rhode Island Nuclear Science CenterNarragansett, Rhode Island
Armed Forces Radiobiology Research InstituteBethesda, Maryland
University of Massachusetts, LowellLowell, Massachusetts
North Carolina State UniversityRaleigh, North Carolina
Oregon State UniversityCorvallis, Oregon
Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity Park, Pennsylvania
University of TexasAustin, Texas
Texas A&M UniversityCollege Station, Texas
U.S. Geological SurveyDenver, Colorado
Washington State UniversityPullman, Washington
University of WisconsinMadison, Wisconsin
Ohio State UniversityColumbus, Ohio
Dow Chemical CompanyMidland, Michigan
Aerotest Operations, Inc.San Ramon, California
University of California, IrvineIrvine, California
Kansas State UniversityManhattan, Kansas
University of MarylandCollege Park, Maryland
Reed CollegePortland, Oregon
Missouri University of Science and TechnologyRolla, Missouri
University of ArizonaTucson, Arizona
University of FloridaGainesville, Florida
General Electric CompanySunol, California
University of UtahSalt Lake City, Utah
Worcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcester, Massachusetts
Purdue UniversityWest Lafayette, Indiana
Rennselaer Polytechnic InstituteSchenectady, New York
Idaho State UniversityPocatello, Idaho
University of New MexicoAlbuquerque, New Mexico
Texas A&M UniversityCollege Station, Texas

Needed to Reassess the Security of NRC-Licensed Research Reactors (January 2008, d08403.pdf) that these reactors receive heightened security measures to protect them against theft of reactor fuel and/or sabotage by terrorists.


Radiological weapons are different from nuclear weapons. The latter use nuclear reactions to create their destructive force. Radiological weapons rely on conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials into the air. Radiological dispersal devices are commonly known as dirty bombs. Even though a dirty bomb does not have the destructive power of a nuclear bomb, it is an effective tool for creating terror. The detonation of a dirty bomb and the subsequent release of radiation could temporarily fool people into believing that a nuclear bomb has been detonated, leading to widespread panic.

The radioactive materials that can be used to manufacture a dirty bomb are widely used in industrial and medical equipment. Examples include low-level radioactive wastes, such as protective clothing and shoe covers, tools and equipment, discarded reactor parts and filters, rags, mops, reactor water treatment residues, luminous dials, and laboratory and medical supplies. Sealed radiological sources are small sealed containers containing a radionuclide in solid or powder form. U.S. law requires that all sealed radiological sources be safeguarded by the licensees that use them. The DOE is responsible for providing disposal for sources that are not needed any more. Table 7.2 provides a list of the toxic effects of some of the most common radiological materials. According to the GAO, in Nuclear Security: DOE Needs Better Information to Guide Its Expanded Recovery of Sealed Radiological Sources (September 2005,, the sealed radiological sources considered most attractive to terrorists contain the radionuclides americium-241, cesium-137, plutonium-238, and strontium-90. A dirty bomb containing sufficient concentrations of one or several of these substances could cause radiation sickness in some victims exposed to the bomb.


Chemical and biological weapons are considered WMDs because of the potentially lethal effects to many people that can be obtained with relatively small amounts of the substances. The use of chemical weapons during warfare is not new. Jonathan Tucker describes in War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to al-Qaeda (2006) their use by German forces during World War I (19141918). In the spring of 1915 German troops had reached a stalemate in Belgium against the Allied forces of France, Britain, and Canada. Both sides were huddled in trenches that crisscrossed the countryside. On April 22 German troops simultaneously opened more than five thousand cylinders containing chlorine gas.

TABLE 7.2 Radiological warfare agents
SOURCE: Table 8. Radiological Warfare Agents, in Homeland Security: First Responders' Ability to Detect and Model Hazardous Releases in Urban Areas Is Significantly Limited, U.S. Government Accountability Office, June 2008, (accessed July 24, 2008)
Radioactive isotopeRespiratory absorption and retentionGastrointestinal absorption and retentionSkin wound absorptionPrimary toxicity
Americium-24175% absorbed; 10% retainedMinimal, usually insolubleRapid in first few daysSkeletal deposition; marrow suppression; hepatic deposition
Cesium-137Completely absorbed; follows potassiumCompletely absorbed; follows potassiumCompletely absorbed; follows potassiumRenal excretion; beta and gamma emissions
Cobalt-60High absorption; limited retentionLess than 5% absorptionUnknownGamma emitter
Iodine-131High absorption; limited retentionHigh absorption; limitedHigh absorption; limitedThyroid ablation carcinoma
Plutonium-238 and Plutonium-239Limited absorption; high retentionMinimal, usually insolubleLimited absorption; may form nodulesLocal effects from retention in lung
Polonium 210Moderate absorption; moderate retentionMinimalModerate absorptionSpleen, kidney
Strontium-90Limited retentionModerate absorptionUnknownBone, follows calcium
Uranium-235 and Uranium-238High absorption; high retentionHigh absorptionHigh absorption; skin irritantRenal, urinary excretion

The wind blew the yellowish-green chlorine cloud across no-mans-land to the Allied trenches, where hundreds of soldiers were incapacitated almost immediately. The remainder of the troops fled in terror, many suffering from seared eyes and bronchial passages. At the time, Germany was a party to international treaties prohibiting the use of munitions to deliver chemical agents.

The horrors unleashed in the German attack led British forces to retaliate with chemical attacks of their own. Throughout the remainder of the war both sides employed toxic gases against the enemy with varying levels of success. The article Gas Warfare (January 15, 2000, lists the chemical agents used during World War I. Public revulsion prevented the use of similar agents on the battlefield during World War II. They were employed by both sides during the Iran-Iraq War (19801988). In addition, the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (19372006) was accused of using chemical weapons in 1988 against the minority Kurdish population in his own country.

In 1997 the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) went into effect. It prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and includes a verification regime to ensure that certain chemicals are produced or traded only for peaceful purposes. According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (2008,, as of June 2008, there were 184 parties to the CWC, including the United States.

Chemical Agents as Weapons

Table 7.3 categorizes various hazardous chemicals by chemical type toxicity. According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in Terrorist CBRN: Materials and Effects (May 2003,, terrorists have been experimenting with various toxic chemicals and planning dissemination methods that could be used in a chemical weapons attack. The chemical agents believed to be of greatest interest to terrorists are cyanide compounds (blood agents), mustard (a blister agent), and nerve agents, such as sarin, tabun, and VX. Videos recovered from terrorist training facilities in Afghanistan show dogs being killed in cyanide gas chambers. Cyanide compounds are easily available, because they have a variety of commercial uses. Mustard gas is not commercially available, but it is relatively easy to synthesize (produce) in the laboratory. Nerve agents are military-grade chemicals and thus extremely difficult for terrorists to obtain.

Even though these chemical agents are highly toxic, effective dissemination techniques have not yet been developed to make them strategically useful to terrorists. Airborne chemicals dissipate quickly unless they are in a confined space. They may be detectable by human senses before reaching a lethal concentration. For example, hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride have distinctive odors. It is likely that potential victims would flee the area before being overcome by such gases.

Chemical Weapons Destruction

Several countries around the world are known to have developed chemical weapons at one time or another, including the United States. Figure 7.4 shows the original and current U.S. stockpile as of December 2007. More than one million items have already been destroyed. The largest remaining amounts were at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado (780,078 items) and the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama (446,712 items). The United States operates chemical weapon incinerators at four of the locations shown in Figure 7.4: Pine Bluff Arsenal, Anniston

TABLE 7.3 Chemical warfare agents
SOURCE: Table 6. Chemical Warfare Agents, in Homeland Security: First Responders' Ability to Detect and Model Hazardous Releases in Urban Areas Is Significantly Limited, U.S. Government Accountability Office, June 2008, (accessed July 24, 2008). Non-government data from Analytic Services, Inc. and Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
ClassSigns and symptomsName and symbolPersistenceRate of actionEye and skin toxicity
BlisterFirst irritates cells, then poisons them; conjunctivitis (pink eye); reddened skin, blisters; nasal irritation; inflammation of throat and lungsEthyldichloroarsine (ED)
Lewisite (L)
Methyldichloroarsine (MD)
Mustard (H, HD)

Days; rapid hydrolysis with humidity
Very high; days to weeks
Immediate irritation; delayed blistering
Delayed hours to days>
Vapor harmful on long exposure; liquid blisters
Severe eye damage; skin less so
Eye damage possible; blisters
Eyes very susceptible; skin less so
  Nitrogen mustard (HN-1, -2, -3)HN-1, -3, very high, days to weeks; HN-2, moderateHN-1, -2, delayed 12 hours or more. HN-3, serious effects, same as HD; minor effects soonerHN-1, eyes susceptible to low concentration, skin less so. HN-2 toxic to eyes; blisters skin. HN-3, eyes very susceptible; skin less so
  Phenyldichloroarsine (PD)Low-moderateRapid633 mg-min/m produces eye damage; less toxic to skin
  Phosgene oxime (CX)Low, 2 hours in soilImmediate effects on contactPowerful irritant to eyes and nose; liquid corrosive to skin
BloodSkin cherry red or 30% cyanosis (bluish discoloration from lack of oxygen); gasping for air; seizures before deathArsine (SA)
Cyanogen chloride (CK)
Hydrogen cyanide (AC)
Evaporates rapidly and disperses
Extremely volatile; 12 days
Extremely volatile; 12 days Very rapid Moderate
2 hours to 11 days
Very rapid
Very rapid
Low; tears and irritation
NerveSalivation, lacrimation (tearing), urination, defecation, gastric disturbances, vomitingCyclosarin (GF)
Sarin (GB
Soman (GD)
Tabun (GA)
Low; 12 days; evaporates with water
Moderate; 12 daysLow; 12 days if heavy concentration
Very high; 1 week if heavy concentration; as volatile as oil
Very rapid
Very rapid
Very rapid
Very rapid
Very high
Very high
Very high
Very high
Very high

Army Depot, Deseret Chemical Depot, and Umatilla Chemical Depot. According to the GAO, in Chemical Demilitarization: Additional Management Actions Needed to Meet Key Performance Goals of DODs Chemical Demilitarization Program (December 2007,, the U.S. stockpile includes mustard gas and two nerve agents called GB (also known as sarin gas) and VX.

The GAO notes in Cooperative Threat Reduction: DOD Needs More Reliable Data to Better Estimate the Cost and Schedule of the Shchuchye Facility (May 2006, that Russia has the worlds largest-known stockpile of chemical weapons, including 32,500 metric tons (35,800 short tons) of nerve agent and 7,500 metric tons (8,300 short tones) of blister agents. In 1992 Congress first authorized the DOD to assist the Russians in destroying the stockpile under the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. The GAO reports that as of March 2006 the Russians had destroyed only about 3% of the stockpile, because only two destruction facilities had been completed. The remainder of the stockpile is supposed to be destroyed by 2012 to meet conditions of the CWC. It is estimated that Russia will need an additional $5.6 billion in funds to eliminate the entire stockpile. Canada, New Zealand, the European Union, and a number of European countries have committed funding to the destruction project.

The CTR program is managed by the DODs Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Completion of the project is a high priority for the U.S. government because of the possibility of diversion and theft at the storage facilities.

Biological Agents as Weapons

Table 7.4 lists biological agents and diseases that could be used in a terrorist attack. The agents are divided into three categories. In Terrorist CBRN, the CIA explains that anthrax and botulism are the diseases likely of most interest to terrorists. Anthrax is a bacterial disease caused by the Bacillus anthracis bacteria, with onset one to six days after exposure. There are two common routes of exposure: inhalation and cutaneous (through the skin). Inhaled anthrax is generally fatal unless antibiotics are given within the first few hours after exposure. Cutaneous anthrax is easily treated and rarely fatal.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, several envelopes containing high-grade anthrax spores were discovered at various locations in the eastern United States. Five people died of inhalation exposure and more than a dozen other people became sick but survived. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suspected that the anthrax had originated at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

The agency vigorously pursued one scientist from that facility, only to admit later that he was not the culprit. In July 2008 the FBI cleared the first suspect and paid him nearly $6 million to settle a lawsuit that the agency had violated his civil rights. A second scientist from the same facility, Bruce Ivins (19462008), was named the prime suspect in the case, but he committed suicide before being charged. As of September 2008, the FBI maintained that Ivins was responsible for the 2001 anthrax attack.

Botulism is caused by the ingestion or inhalation of the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. The CIA reports that recovered terrorist training manuals have included procedures for producing small quantities of botulinum toxin. The onset of symptoms from botulism usually occurs two to three days after exposure and includes severe gastrointestinal illnesses. Another biological agent of interest to terrorists is ricin. It is an extremely toxic agent that can be extracted from castor beans.


The breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s into individual republics ended the cold war but produced new security concerns for the United States. In particular, the United States is worried about the safety of the enormous stockpile of WMDs that the Soviets accumulated. The new republics have struggled economically, producing fears that WMDs or related technologies might be sold on the black market and wind up in the hands of terrorists or rogue nations. Therefore, the security of the old Soviet stockpile is a major concern to U.S. national security.

Nunn-Lugar Program

In 1991 two senators of rival parties collaborated on an act intended to prevent the spread of WMDs from the former Soviet Union. The Nunn-Lugar Act was spear-headed by Senators Sam Nunn (1938; D-GA) and Richard G. Lugar (1932; R-IN). It provides funding for the destruction of missiles and chemical weapons and employment opportunities for former weapons scientists.

TABLE 7.4 Biological warfare agents
SOURCE: Table 7. Biological Warfare Agents, in Homeland Security: First Responders' Ability to Detect and Model Hazardous Releases in Urban Areas Is Significantly Limited, U.S. Government Accountability Office, June 2008, (accessed July 24, 2008). Non-government data from Analytic Services, Inc. and Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
AgentPossible means of deliveryTimeSymptomsLethalityStability
AnthraxAerosolIncubation 15 days; symptoms in 23 daysFever, malaise, fatigue, cough, and mild chest discomfort, followed by severe respiratory distress35 days; shock and death 2436 hours after symptomsSpores are highly stable
BrucellosisAerosol, expected to mimic a natural diseaseRate of action usually 660 daysChills, sweats, headache, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and anorexiaWeeks to monthsOrganisms are stable for several weeks in wet soil and food
CholeraSabotaged food and water supply; aerosolSudden onset after 15 days incubationInitial vomiting and abdominal distention, with little or no fever or abdominal pain, followed rapidly by diarrheaOne or more weeks; low with treatment; high without treatmentUnstable in aerosols and pure water; more stable in polluted water
PlagueContaminated fleas, causing bubonic type, or aerosol, causing pneumonic typeRate of action 23 days; incubation 26 days bubonic, 34 days pneumonicHigh fever, chills, headache, spitting up blood, and toxemia, progressing rapidly to shortness of breath and cyanosis (bluish coloration of skin and membranes)Very highExtremely stable but highly transmissible
Q feverDust cloud from a line or point sourceOnset may be suddenChills, headache, weakness, malaise, and severe sweatsVery lowStable
TularemiaAerosolRate of action 35 days; incubation 1 10 daysFever, chills, headache, and malaise2 weeks moderateNot very stable
TyphoidSabotaged food and water supplyRate of action 13 days; incubation 1 10 daysSustained fever, severe headaches, and malaiseModerate if untreatedStable
TyphusContaminated lice or fleasRate of action 615 days; onset often sudden, terminating after about 2 weeks of feverHeadaches, chills, prostration, fever, and general painHighNot very stable
BotulinumSabotaged food and water supply; aerosolRate of action 1272 hours; incubation hours to daysBlurred vision; photophobia; skeletal muscle paralysis and progressive weakness that may culminate abruptly in respiratory failureHighStable
RicinAerosolRate of action 672 hoursRapid onset of nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and severe diarrhea with vascular collapseHighStable
EbolaAerosol; direct contactRate of action: suddenMalaise, headache, vomiting, diarrheaHigh: 716 daysUnstable
MarburgAerosol; direct contactRate of action: 79 daysMalaise, headache, vomiting, diarrheaHighUnstable
SmallpoxAirborneRate of action 24 days; incubation 717 daysMalaise, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, small blisters on skin, bleeding of mucous membranesHighStable
Venezuelan equine encephalitisAirborneSudden rate of action; incubation 15 daysHeadache, fever, dizziness, drowsiness or stupor, tremors or convulsions, muscular incoordinationLowUnstable
Yellow feverAerosolSudden rate of action; incubation 36 daysMalaise, headache, vomiting, diarrheaHighUnstable

The act also resulted in the creation of the CTR program office within the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs. The CTR offices mission is to implement the Nunn-Lugar program to reduce WMDs subject to international arms control treaties.

In fiscal year (FY) 1992, when the Nunn-Lugar program was first instituted, $12.9 million was funded to the program; by FY 2007 the funding was $372 million. (See Figure 7.5.) In total, nearly $6.1 billion has been devoted to this program. According to Senator Lugar, in The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (2008,, the program has completely eliminated nuclear weapons from the Republics of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan and created 580 jobs for former weapons scientists. More than twenty thousand weapons-related items have been destroyed, deactivated, or dismantled. (See Table 7.5.) By 2012 the program is expected to achieve more substantial reductions, representing a significant decrease in the CTR baseline inventory of these items.

Defense Threat Reduction Agency

In 1998 the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) was established by the secretary of defense within the DOD. Joseph P. Harahan and Robert J. Bennett note in Creating the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (January 2002,

TABLE 7.5 Goals and progress of Nunn-Lugar program, 200812
SOURCE: The Nunn-Lugar Scorecard, in The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, undated, (accessed August 5, 2008)
Soviet declared amounts Reductions to datePercent of 2012 targets2012 targets
13,300Warheads deactivated7,29279%9,222
1,473Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) destroyed70865%1,078
831ICBM silos eliminated49677%645
442ICBM mobile launchers destroyed13149%267
48Nuclear weapons carrying submarines destroyed3086%35
936Submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) eliminated63191%691
728SLBM launchers eliminated45681%564
906Nuclear air-to-surface missiles destroyed906100%906
233Bombers eliminated155100%155
194Nuclear sites/holes sealed194100%194
 Nuclear weapons transport train shipments39463%620
 Nuclear weapons storage site security upgrades1664%27
 Biological monitoring stations built and equipped1527%55

that the DTRA combined five existing components that had been devoted to various aspects of WMD control: the Defense Special Weapons Agency, the On-Site Inspection Agency, the Defense Technology Security Administration, the Chemical-Biological Defense Program, and the CTR. The DTRA is headquartered in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The DTRA takes a three-pronged approach to foreign WMD control (2008, http//

  • Nonproliferationprevent and limit WMD acquisition and development. This enterprise involves onsite inspections and the CTR program and is concentrated on the former republics of the Soviet Union.
TABLE 7.6 Status of arms control treaties and agreements as of January 2008
source : Adapted from DTRA Arms Control Inspections at-a-Glance, in Fact Sheet, U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, January 2008, (accessed August 5, 2008)
Treaty/agreementDate signedSignatories to dateEntry into forceExpiration dateNumber of inspections to date
Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)Jan. 13, 1993183 countries, including U.S. and Russia.April 29, 1997None865 visits or inspections of Department of Defense (DoD) sites. 84 inspections of U.S. commercial industry facilities.
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)Sept. 24, 1996177 countries, including all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council; 140 countries have ratified.TBDNoneNone
Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) TreatyNov. 19, 199030 countries, including members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the former Warsaw Pact.July 17, 1992NoneU.S. conducted 312 inspections and 169 reduction inspections. U.S hosted 153 escort missions and conducted over 810 liaison missions.
Adapted CFE TreatyNov. 19, 199930 countries, including members of NATO and the former Warsaw PactTBDNoneNone
Cooperative ThreatJune 17, 1992US/RussiaJune 17, 1992June 17, 2000157 audits and examinations from 19952004
Reduction (CTR)Oct. 25, 1992US/UkraineOct. 25, 1992Oct. 25, 1993 
Agreement (Nunn-Lugar)Oct. 22, 1992US/BelarusOct. 22, 1992Oct. 22, 1993 
 Oct. 25, 1993US/KazakhstanOct. 25, 1993Oct. 24, 1993 
General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herze-Govina (Dayton Accords)Article II Jan. 26, 1996
Article IV Jan. 14, 1996
6 parties: Federation of Bosnia and manufacturing facility Herze-Govina, Republika Srbska, Serbia, Montenegro and the Republic of Croatia. Four assistants including the U.S.Jan. 26, 1996 U.S. either led or participated in 23 inspections and 2 weapons manufacturing facility visits.
Mayak Fissile Material Storage Facility Agreement U.S., RussiaTBD The Fissile Material Storage Facility was completed in December 2003. Facility monitoring will begin after the signing of a transparency protocol agreement.
Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) TreatyDec. 8, 1987U.S., USSR/Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, UkraineJune 1, 1988Inspections ceased May 31, 2001, after 13 yearsU.S. conducted 511 inspections in Russia; Russians conducted 275 inspections in U.S. and Europe.
Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty (PNET)May 28, 1976
Protocol signed
June 1, 1990
U.S., USSR/ RussiaDec. 11, 19905 years with automatic extensionsU.S. peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs) monitored: 0
Open Skies TreatyMarch 24, 199234 countries including U.S.Jan. 1, 2002NoneTo date, U.S, has conducted 47 quota missions and escorted 12. Joint Trial Flights (JTFs)over 125 since 1993.
Plutonium Production Reactor Agreement (PPRA)Sept. 23, 1997U.S., RussiaSept. 23, 1997NoneU.S. conducted inaugural monitoring visit of Russian shutdown reactors in March 1999. Russia conducted their monitoring of shutdown U.S. reactors in June 1999.
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)July 1, 1991U.S., Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and KazakhstanDec. 5, 199415 years with possible extensionsThrough treaty year 10, December 2004, U.S. conducted 569 inspections and Russia conducted 389.
Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT)July 3, 1974
Verification protocol signed June 1, 1990
U.S., USSR/RussiaDec. 11, 19905 years with automatic extensionsU.S. tests monitored: 2
Russian tests monitored: 0
  • Counterproliferationthis mission is described as military activities to deter, identify, deny, and overcome our adversaries development, acquisition, possession, and use of WMD. It is carried out by the Combat Support Directorate within the DTRA.
  • Consequence managementthis enterprise is devoted to mitigating the effects of WMD attacks or accidents. Emergency incidents are simulated to help government agencies train their response personnel.