Current military use of chemical warfare agents.

Traditionally toxic products have been chosen for this use, with preference the more lethal. Their modern uses look more for the ability of these agents to jam the performance of various mobile modern military operations. Indeed, the defensive measures against these chemical aggressors involve the use of cumbersome personal carrying equipment, well-sealed coats and collective shelters, complicating the construction of fixed and field fortifications, and laborious means for the detection of its presence and for the complete decontamination of the area affected by its use, overloading the logistics. In modern mobile warfare the proper pace or tempo of operations is a synergistic feature of the combat and movement capabilities of units. And the obstacles and reinforced cuts, the minefields, the destruction of bridges, the crossings of water flows, the carrying out of unnecessary or secondary operations leads to losses at that appropriate rate.

According to this, an unscrupulous adversary could gain some tactical advantage by threatening his employment, especially if he does so against an enemy determined not to use them or who lacked them for useful employ in combat. This adversary would cause the threatened force serious logistical, tactical and operational problems, by adopting the uncomfortable and onerous preventive measures indicated. Which would never be absolute in time, place and strength. In doing so, he would still have the advantage of deciding to use them on a suitable occasion.

Current developments in chemical agents and their prospects.

Today, the great military powers that have the right technologies for this, barely try to find or develop new agents for chemical warfare. Since the mid-60s of the last century, all research, testing and development efforts have focused on employing known agents more appropriately and effectively. One way to increase an agent’s effectiveness is to add a thickening product that «supports and fixes» it during use. This makes the area attacked more difficult to clean and the active agent adhered to the heavy, neutral and porous «organic polymer», the aforementioned fixative, evaporates much more slowly, prolonging the effective attack time.

A second development of the above trend is the use of a binary chemical system. This would ideally use two products of very low toxicity isolated, which, once in contact, would produce the desired chemical agent. In general, the binary system has the initial advantage of allowing better storage, transport and handling than military chemical agents, by keeping the danger away until the final stages of its use. Until now, this reaction or combination is more or less incomplete, because not all of the two component products are able to react. Since they begin to «pair up», the formed agent is hindering or preventing with its inevitable and growing presence, the chemical contact, intimate, of the remaining molecules of the primary reagents. On the other hand, at least one of the products used is usually toxic and aggressive, but much less than the final agent sought.

A third way to employ agents it is more effective to protect them from defensive actions against them, by incorporating a chemical that acts on the defensive reagents and degrades them. For example, against an individual protective mask would be used a penetrating and aggressive product against its filter. This would allow the chemical agent to circulate unharmed through it and assault the supposedly protected individual. The consequent psychological effects of stupor and helplessness would increase the damage to the individual and his small military unit in chemical warfare.

The control of chemical agents in the international context. Problems posed by certain non-democratic medium powers.

In 1925, the Geneva Convention promulgated a protocol prohibiting the first use (but not the reply or answer of the attacked) of the chemical agents in any conflict. Gradually, up to 120 nations have been ratifying this agreement, including the USSR and the US (in 1975).

Some nations consider defiling agents and tear gas agents not included in the protocol. Others think they are and think that the US violated the spirit of its control during the Vietnam War. The disagreements, far from being clarified, continue, since, for example, the discussions reach the recent products that attack the filters of the individual masks and that are harmless to people, but that disable their protective equipment.

All this is making it progressively more difficult to politicians and legislators, stuck in rhetoric, semantics and their conflicting and even confusing interests, to identify simple and effective minimum standards of use, monitoring and control of potentially aggressive products.

For their part, large nations with technologies suitable for their production and employment have established on their own various agreements aimed at limiting the storage of agents, as an expression of a permanent capacity of their use. In addition, there are «on-site» inspections of potential factories and suspected sites of housing them and even of hiding them. However, they need to be supplemented by convincing and practical verification procedures and with the application of the punishment stipulated in them for violators of the limitations accepted with their signatures.

This raises, by logical extension, the problem of the middle powers that can develop or acquire those necessary technologies. The middle countries that own or generate large amounts of foreign exchange are ideal candidates for this.

There is currently a direct relationship between the quality of the militarization of a society (modern doctrine, means, training and readiness to use them) and the degree of development of public and private rights in it. The mass armies, less effective and more vulnerable today, can flourish in developing nations and in certain aristocracies (government of the most notable people in the state, not necessarily the best ones) enough developed.

The limitation of sensitive or dissident information will allow the leaders to emerge and lead in these undemocratic societies, a “national moral” and a “will of defensefunctioning and healthy. These effective social factors of the state or national strategy, will be able to generate and sustain a war, even preventive, in certain cases: famines, climate changes, territorial and ethnic claims, population explosion and defense and exaltation of beliefs and religions.

For their part, the main and industrialized nations of this type, which, having the above vital characteristics, managed to make a qualitative leap in their development and to model an army with modern doctrine and means, instrument of its elites or oligarchies and backed by that drove nation, would present a special military danger on the future international scene.

For these nations, in their darkest political phases, chemical agents could easily be seen as the nuclear bombs of the poor and oppressed. And they would be considered entitled to possess them and to use them. Like other nations, in their periods of equivalent social development, they could investigate, synthesize, manufacture and even employ them. And I am thinking of regional conflicts, as seen in enunciating their goals, and, in a merely indicative, not exhaustive, count, in Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Ukraine.

Non-military proliferation and its use in special and terrorist activities. More effective and safe means of killing.

The chemical poisons are not in practice as repulsive and feared as biological agents. For this reason, is highly probable their isolated and timely use by professional assassins and by highly fanatical unscrupulous terrorists. Whose vital aim is to spread indiscriminate terror among the enemy’s unarmed civilian populations. Chemicals accompany us in life, many are poisonous, and are an essential part of our continued efforts to improve the lifespan and quality of life of humanity. And misuses do harm and cause pain in their victims or in their «reckless profane manipulators«. Just see how are protected with costumes and masks more impressive than space, the professionals who study, manufacture, distribute and use them industrially.

Chemical agents have never been used during the last 100 years in operations outside of fixed, stable and fortified fronts, or against massive frontal attacks, without NBQ-protected vehicles, which invited their productive employment. Today, the goal is reducing the pace of the enemy’s mobile military operations (the «tempo»). Chemical agents are «zones weapons«, they act in a previously well chosen area, within a superior operational plan. The use of aggressive chemicals in very fluid tactical «interphases of action» of units and small military units against «groups» of rebels is not practical. And fears of these weapons falling into the hands of anti-Western terrorists are not very well founded. After the fall of the USSR and the emergence of a semi-articulated Russian Federation passed a time, in which it was thought that a great spread of NBQ weapons would occur towards terrorist and/or separatist groups and rebellious or scoundrel states. And this did not happen.

We remember the case of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who was first said to have been poisoned with a salt of thallium contained in an insecticide. And, then, it was confirmed that the poison was Polonium 210, a radioactive isotope of that poisonous metal from the calcium and radium metal family. The radioactive and unspeakable trail of the attack spread through half of Western Europe, raising all kinds of information and comments in the world’s media.

Did you know that Polonium 210 is very present in smoking tobacco, because the plant concentrates it relatively in its metabolism, taking it from the ground? It could not be made more evident and sloppy that execution. Using Leninist terminology, we could say that it was a «provocation of the enemy services«. And even the goons, even if they are «official», are not what they were in the past. How education degrades at all levels!




Chemical warfare is the use as military weapons of chemicals, capable of damaging, injuring or killing living things. Chemical compounds for chemical warfare are also referred to as «military chemical agents» and are usually classified into types or categories according to their effect on victims. Often the agents are called generically «poisonous gases«, although they can actually be found and act in the three material states: solid, liquid and gaseous.

Classification, history and military characteristics of chemical warfare agents.

The universal chemical nomenclature seeks to describe in the name of a product, all its active radicals and sub molecules, without doubt about its quality, number and position in the designate molecule. This makes its use difficult for non-specialists, mainly in the case of organic products or carbon derivatives. Every year tens of thousands of new compounds are synthesized or «created» every year, which are mostly organic. Therefore, military chemical agents are usually named by simple codes or symbols, within a «sui generis», acceptable, «light» and commonly accepted nomenclature.

Nerve agents prevent the nervous system from functioning properly by inhibiting the action of enzymes responsible for the degradation of excess acetylcholine. This is a vital nerve transmitter, which acts on dendrites and axons. These are, respectively, inputs and outputs of nerve impulses to the neurons nucleus. The acetylcholine, due to the effect of the military agent, accumulates in excess in these nerve endings and the normal functions of them are impossible, eventually leading to general paralysis and death by dry drowning. The first symptoms of its action are muscle spasms, myosis or pointing of the pupils, runny nose and drooling. Agents of this type are all from the organophosphate or organophosphorus family (the difference is the valence or chemical «capacity» with which the phosphorus attached to the agent molecule acts). In 1932 its toxicity was first observed and they began to be used as pesticides, for pest control. This commercial use continues today. During World War II, the Germans synthesized and manufactured in large quantities the three agents first indicated in the table, although they were never used militarily. This led to the development of new products of the family, by the Americans, who obtained in 1958 the VX, and by the Soviets, who soon synthesized a very similar compound, the VR-55.

Respiratory agents prevent the body from using oxygen in its intracellular combustions. This causes the cell respiration (which is the true one, where the inspired oxygen is consumed) to cease. And, therefore, its production of vital energy, which will lead to death. The characteristics of their performance make them one of the fastest known poisons. The use of arsenic and cyanide as killer poisons has a long history in criminology. His military employment was studied during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and by the British during the Crimean War against the Russians (1853-1856). Its use on the battlefield was perfected during World War I. Hydrogen cyanide was the chemical agent of selection of the Germans in their concentration camps during World War II.

Suffocating agents concentrate their damage on the eyes and on the entire respiratory tract (nose, throat, bronchi, lungs). They produce swelling (pathological swelling) of the affected tissues, which makes breathing progressively difficult and leads to a dry drowning of the victim. During World War I extensive use was made of these agents, which by being gaseous are difficult to control with variable results. This led to their military replacement by vesicant agents.

Vesicant agents cause wounds in contact with tissues, similar to those caused by burns. The first agent of this type used was iperite or mustard gas, which owes the latter name to its smell reminiscent of that seasoning species. Although it is known as mustard gas, its military use is in liquid form or in aerosols, which form small droplets carried by an inert gas. A mixture of iperite with lewisite produces an agent called HL, which has a greater range of active temperatures, without freezing when the iperite already does and disperses poorly. Vesicant agents have a high persistence in the affected areas, usually weeks. Although their presence has even been recorded for months and years after its use. Of course, when decontamination measures had not been used. These agents can cause death by drowning, as fluid accumulates in the lungs, derived from the humors secreted by vesicant wounds produced in the respiratory system. Iperite was used extensively in World War I, seeking its ability to thwart necessary routine military operations. By 1930 the British, the Americans, the Japanese, the Spanish, the Italians, the French and the Soviets had factories for their production with very different capacities. In the inter-war period, these agents were employed by the Italians in Ethiopia and by the French and the Spanish in the Moroccan rebellions. Although during World War II these agents were kept in large quantities in military chemical arsenals, their use was virtually nil, except for one case of mass employment in China by the Japanese.

These uses against massive enemy forces of much inferior military quality, recall those of Saddam Hussein against his northern Kurds and against the fanatical hordes of Iranian «mujahedeen», the Basijs. The Shiite ayatollahs sent these religious «sans-culottes» in frontal attacks against fortified Iraqi positions, deployed in depth, to get rid of their already uncontrollable and uncomfortable presence, in the 1980s. Good results led to the inclusion of his use in battle in Iraqi military doctrine.

Incidentally, his possession was one of the Americans’ arguments against his regime in 2003. But did Saddam have the vectors, the effective means of dispersing the agents? That are the ones who truly make them effective in chemical warfare.

Vomiting agents were developed by the British during World War I. These are various arsenic compounds, which produce extreme nausea, leading to continuous and uncontrollable vomiting. During the Russian Civil War, in 1919, the British employed vomiting agents against the Red Army in northern Russia. Since 1920 there are no records of his use in chemical warfare. As its toxicity ranges from low to moderate, its real interest is police: for the control of riots and fusses and the softening of armed criminals in protected positions, prior to their assault by law enforcement. Let us remember that the police, unlike the military, are not obliged to die in their trade. And hence its doctrine and tendency to act in its operations with overwhelming superiority of means. During the 1930s they were used like this, but then Western nations have banned their use against civilians under any circumstances. As if a hollow or fragile bullet wound were more human, after going a few cm. of resistance in the «target», than the other type.

The tear agents irritate the skin and cause a great profusion of tears in those affected. Its effects are immediate, but transient and not lethal, unless used in closed places, where they can reach lethal critical concentration. This makes them useful in police and training jobs, where prolonged disability of their victims would be unacceptable. Agent CN was synthesized in Germany in 1871 and proposed as a chemical agent by the US in 1917. It was already too late to use it in World War I, although it has since been widely used in such jobs, including in some portable sprays for individual protection.

Herbicide agents destroy vegetation and are commercially important for weed control. Its use with military interests seeks to limit or destroy enemy crops and to strip plants from jungle areas, to prevent the concealment in them of enemy forces, especially the irregular military rebels. During the Vietnam War, the Americans used Agent Blue to prevent the formation of grain in the supposedly enemy rice fields. Agent Orange, a mixture of two herbicides with synergistic effects, 2.4-D and 2.4.5-T, was used in the war to defoliate entire forests. The final product was contaminated by a dioxin (a poison, worse than hydrogen cyanide!!), which originates as a by-product during the manufacture of the 2 components. This dioxin is to be attributed the undesirable and unforeseen effects suffered by the Americans manipulators of the agent and its vectors and by the inhabitants of the areas punished with their use.

Incapacitating agents seek that enemies exposed to them stop fighting, but without causing them harm, injury or death. This would be achieved by provoking psychological or mental effects that temporarily alter their perceptions or judgments, so that they are unable to perform their military duties. So far, no chemical agent has been found to meet these supposedly ideal effects for «clean» chemical warfare militarily and satisfactorily. The US has tested the hallucinogenic agent BZ in this category and manufactured it for a while. The practical results obtained with it were variable and unpredictable, which diminished its military value.