News | Dec. 1, 2001

Adversary Use of NBC Weapons: A Neglected Challenge

By John F. Reichart Strategic Forum 187

Despite years of research, the community’s knowledge of how an adversary might use nuclear (and radiological), biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons remains restricted in important ways. The historical data that inform this area are rather limited and largely dated. We do not have much in the way of adversary planning documents or doctrine to study, and nations acquiring NBC weapons do not usually address employment concepts. Despite these gaps, we do know that NBC weapons afford potential adversaries cost-effective force multipliers and that a number of states of concern are actively pursuing their development.

We know that in the 20th century NBC weapons were used in warfare. We also know that the successful use of chemical weapons by Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, and the absence of an international outcry, led to a renewed emphasis on such programs—the Chemical Weapons Convention notwithstanding. Similarly, wouldbe proliferators likely have observed the relative absence of substantial punitive measures relating to flagrant Iraqi violation of international nuclear and biological weapons conventions. Moreover, it is worth remembering that we have been repeatedly surprised over the last decade by the scope of the Soviet biological weapons program, the scope and depth of Iraqi NBC efforts, North Korean missile development activities, and other high-profile cases. The unclassified judgment of the Director of Central Intelligence on this subject is clear and alarming: we face the real and growing prospect of proliferation surprise as we move into the 21st century. READ MORE >>