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InvisibleRavus
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Weapons of Minimum Destruction
    #3038488 - 08/23/04 04:02 AM (12 years, 3 months ago)

Weapons of Minimum Destruction
by Brendan O'Neill

'Believe it or not, what we refer to as "weapons of mass destruction" are actually not very destructive.'

David C Rapoport, professor of political science at University College Los Angeles and editor of the Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence, has examined what he calls 'easily available evidence' relating to the historic use of chemical and biological weapons.

He found something surprising - such weapons do not cause mass destruction. Indeed, whether used by states, terror groups or dispersed in industrial accidents, they tend to be far less destructive than conventional weapons. 'If we stopped speculating about things that might happen in the future and looked instead at what has happened in the past, we'd see that our fears about WMD are misplaced', he says.

Yet such fears remain widespread. Post-9/11, American and British leaders have issued dire warnings about terrorists getting hold of WMD and causing mass murder and mayhem. President George W Bush has spoken of terrorists who, 'if they ever gained weapons of mass destruction', would 'kill hundreds of thousands, without hesitation and without mercy' (1).

The British government has spent ?28million on stockpiling millions of smallpox vaccines, even though there's no evidence that terrorists have got access to smallpox, which was eradicated as a natural disease in the 1970s and now exists only in two high-security labs in America and Russia (2). In 2002, British nurses became the first in the world to get training in how to deal with the victims of bioterrorism (3).

The UK Home Office's 22-page pamphlet on how to survive a terror attack, published last month, included tips on what to do in the event of a 'chemical, biological or radiological attack' ('Move away from the immediate source of danger', it usefully advised). Spine-chilling books such as Plague Wars: A True Story of Biological Warfare, The New Face of Terrorism: Threats From Weapons of Mass Destruction and The Survival Guide: What to Do in a Biological, Chemical or Nuclear Emergency speculate over what kind of horrors WMD might wreak. TV docudramas, meanwhile, explore how Britain might cope with a smallpox assault and what would happen if London were 'dirty nuked' (4).

The term 'weapons of mass destruction' refers to three types of weapons: nuclear, chemical and biological. A chemical weapon is any weapon that uses a manufactured chemical, such as sarin, mustard gas or hydrogen cyanide, to kill or injure. A biological weapon uses bacteria or viruses, such as smallpox, ricin or anthrax, to cause destruction - inducing sickness and disease as a means of undermining enemy forces or inflicting civilian casualties. We find such weapons repulsive, because of the horrible way in which the victims convulse and die - but they appear to be less 'destructive' than conventional weapons.

Chemical weapons have most commonly been used by states
'We know that nukes are massively destructive, there is a lot of evidence for that', says Rapoport. But when it comes to chemical and biological weapons, 'the evidence suggests that we should call them "weapons of minimum destruction", not mass destruction', he says.

Chemical weapons have most commonly been used by states, in military warfare. Rapoport explored various state uses of chemicals over the past hundred years: both sides used them in the First World War; Italy deployed chemicals against the Ethiopians in the 1930s; the Japanese used chemicals against the Chinese in the 1930s and again in the Second World War; Egypt and Libya used them in the Yemen and Chad in the postwar period; most recently, Saddam Hussein's Iraq used chemical weapons, first in the war against Iran (1980-1988) and then against its own Kurdish population at the tail-end of the Iran-Iraq war.

In each instance, says Rapoport, chemical weapons were used more in desperation than from a position of strength or a desire to cause mass destruction. 'The evidence is that states rarely use them even when they have them', he writes in a fascinating new paper on 'Terrorism and the Weapons of the Apocalypse'. 'Only when a military stalemate has developed, which belligerents who have become desperate want to break, are they used.' (5) As to whether such use of chemicals was effective, Rapoport says that at best it blunted an offensive - but this very rarely, if ever, translated into a decisive strategic shift in the war, because the original stalemate continued after the chemical weapons had been deployed.

He points to the example of Iraq. The Baathists used chemicals against Iran when that nasty trench-fought war had reached yet another stalemate. As Efraim Karsh argues in his paper 'The Iran-Iraq War: A Military Analysis': 'Iraq employed [chemical weapons] only in vital segments of the front and only when it saw no other way to check Iranian offensives. Chemical weapons had a negligible impact on the war, limited to tactical rather than strategic [effects].' (6)

According to Rapoport, this 'negligible' impact of chemical weapons on the direction of a war is reflected in the disparity between the numbers of casualties caused by chemicals and the numbers caused by conventional weapons. It is estimated that the use of gas in the Iran-Iraq war killed 5,000 - but the Iranian side suffered around 600,000 dead in total, meaning that gas killed less than one per cent.

The deadliest use of gas occurred in the First World War but, as Rapoport points out, it still only accounted for five per cent of casualties. Studying the amount of gas used by both sides from 1914-1918 relative to the number of fatalities gas caused, Rapoport has written: 'It took a ton of gas in that war to achieve a single enemy fatality. Wind and sun regularly dissipated the lethality of the gases. Furthermore, those gassed were 10 to 12 times as likely to recover than those casualties produced by traditional weapons.' (7)

Indeed, Rapoport discovered that some earlier documenters of the First World War had a vastly different assessment of chemical weapons than we have today - they considered the use of such weapons to be preferable to bombs and guns, because chemicals caused fewer fatalities. One wrote: 'Instead of being the most horrible form of warfare, it is the most humane, because it disables far more than it kills, ie, it has a low fatality ratio.' (8) 'Imagine that', says Rapoport, 'WMD being referred to as more humane'. He says that the contrast between such assessments and today's fears shows that actually looking at the evidence has benefits, allowing 'you to see things more rationally'.

The Tamil Tigers? use of chemicals angered some of their support base
According to Rapoport, even Saddam's use of gas against the Kurds of Halabja in 1988 - the most recent use by a state of chemical weapons and the most commonly cited as evidence of the dangers of 'rogue states' getting their hands on WMD - does not show that unconventional weapons are more destructive than conventional ones. Of course the attack on Halabja was horrific, but he points out that the circumstances surrounding the assault remain unclear.

'The estimates of how many were killed vary greatly', he tells me. 'Some say 400, others say 5,000, others say more than 5,000. The fighter planes that attacked the civilians used conventional as well as unconventional weapons; I have seen no study which explores how many were killed by chemicals and how many were killed by firepower. We all find these attacks repulsive, but the death toll may actually have been greater if conventional bombs only were used. We know that conventional weapons are more destructive.'

Rapoport says that terrorist use of chemical and biological weapons is similar to state use - in that it is rare and, in terms of causing mass destruction, not very effective. He cites the work of journalist and author John Parachini, who says that over the past 25 years only four significant attempts by terrorists to use WMD have been recorded. The most effective WMD-attack by a non-state group, from a military perspective, was carried out by the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka in 1990. They used chlorine gas against Sri Lankan soldiers guarding a fort, injuring over 60 soldiers but killing none.

The Tamil Tigers' use of chemicals angered their support base, when some of the chlorine drifted back into Tamil territory - confirming Rapoport's view that one problem with using unpredictable and unwieldy chemical and biological weapons over conventional weapons is that the cost can be as great 'to the attacker as to the attacked'. The Tigers have not used WMD since.

The most infamous use of WMD by terrorists was in March 1995, when 10 members of Aum Shinryko, the strange Japanese religious cult, released sarin gas on the Tokyo Underground. The homemade gas was placed in plastic bags wrapped in newspapers. The cult members started the attack by puncturing the bags with umbrellas. Twelve people were killed; over 1,000 were hospitalised, 40 of whom were seriously injured.

The Tokyo gas attack is seen as the most audacious use of WMD by terrorists to date; it is often namechecked as an example of what might happen if al-Qaeda types were to use WMD on the London Underground or on the New York Subway.

Yet, as Rapoport points out, while the Aum Shinryko attack certainly had tragic consequences, it also showed up the limitations of WMD attacks in terms of causing casualties or destruction. He says that even though Aum Shinryko had 'extraordinary cover for a long time' - meaning that the Japanese authorities were nervous about monitoring the group on the grounds that it was a religious outfit - and despite the fact that it had '20 members with graduate degrees in science, significant laboratories and assets of over a billion dollars', it still did not succeed in its aim of taking hundreds or thousands of casualties, of causing mass destruction. For Rapoport this shows that such weapons are far from easy to use, especially when the groups using them must move around quickly, 'as all terrorists must do'.

Much of the terror discussion is anticipatory and speculative
According to Rapoport, the most striking thing about the Aum Shinryko attack is that no one died from inhaling the sarin gas itself - in every fatal case, the individual had made contact with the liquid. He cites Parachini again, who says that the individuals killed by Aum Shinryko are the only people to have lost their lives as a result of a WMD attack by a terrorist group over the past 25 years. (There were also five deaths as a result of anthrax attacks post-9/11, but Parachini doesn't include those because the individual responsible and the motivation for those attacks remain unknown.)

'When you think that fewer than 15 people have been killed by known terrorist use of chemical and biological weapons, and contrast that to the thousands who were killed on 9/11 and in conventional bombings in Madrid or Bali or Istanbul, it's quite remarkable that we are so obsessed with WMD', says Rapoport.

So why are we so obsessed with WMD? Why do we continue to fret over weapons which, by all accounts, do not cause as much mass destruction as conventional weapons, which have only rarely been used by terrorists (and not very successfully at that), and which we're not even certain that today's terrorists, specifically al-Qaeda, have got access to? Rapoport says that's a good question - but a difficult one to answer. He thinks the reasons are complex; he argues that it isn't only government and media who have ratcheted up fear about WMD, but that 'economic interests' have, too - those in business, government and research institutions who stand to make financial gain from public concern about WMD and from public demands for more protective measures against such weapons.

No doubt there is some truth in that. But the disparity between the facts about WMD and our fears of WMD also reveals something more about today's terror-obsession. It shows up the gap between the reality of terrorism - which over the past three years has largely consisted of scrappy bomb attacks by small nihilistic groups - and the fear of terrorism as something that might bring down civilisation as we know it, or, in the words of President Bush, inflict 'hundreds of thousands of casualties'. It suggests that our concern about terrorism is not entirely shaped by the real threat posed by terrorism, but by a broader sense of fear and insecurity at home. That might explain why so much of the terror discussion, particularly in relation to WMD, is anticipatory and speculative, always conjuring up worst-case scenarios - because it comes from within, from our own nightmares and imaginations, rather than from without.

In this sense, chemical and biological weapons - the nightmare notion of silent, invisible killer poisons being released into our water systems or on to crowded public transport - are the perfect metaphor for the West's own sense of vulnerability. What we could really do with is a heavy dose of reality.

Read on:

spiked-issue: War on terror (1) President Bush: Libya Pledges to Dismantle WMD Programmes, The White House, 19 December 2003

(2) See Creating the enemy, by Brendan O'Neill

(3) See Creating the enemy, by Brendan O'Neill

(4) BBC drama to depict 'dirty bomb' in London, Guardian, 28 July 2004

(5) 'Terrorism and Weapons of the Apocalypse 2', David C Rapoport

(6) 'The Iran-Iraq War: A Military Analysis', Efriam Karsh, Adelphi Papers, ISSS, 1987

(7) Terrorism and Weapons of the Apocalypse 2', David C Rapoport

(8) 'Terrorism and Weapons of the Apocalypse 2', David C Rapoport
http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/0000000CA694.htm


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OfflineSeussA
Error: divide byzero

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Re: Weapons of Minimum Destruction [Re: Ravus]
    #3038840 - 08/23/04 10:17 AM (12 years, 3 months ago)

Wow... lets compare apples and oranges and claim that grapes taste better as our conclusion.  The reason why WMDs aren't as destructive is because everybody that is sane that has them is afraid to use them because they are so damn destructive.  People with conventional weaopns aren't afraid to use them, so obviously they do more damage, when taken in the context of use.  If we compare potential destructive capability, rather than what has actually been used, then the numbers come out quite a bit different.

The other large differene between WMDs and conventional weapons is the ability of a single not-so-sane person to inflict major damage.  One person with dynamite strapped to their body can kill a few people.  One person with a small nuke in their backpack can kill many thousands.  Just because people have easier access to dynamite than they do to nuclear weapons, does not mean that dynamite is more destructive, or dangerous than a nuclear weapon.

I'm also not impressed with the use of references by this guy... lets site the same few papers over and over and over... oh, and through in a fictional drama to help back things up...  :rolleyes:


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Invisibleretread
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Re: Weapons of Minimum Destruction [Re: Ravus]
    #3039332 - 08/23/04 01:36 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

This guy, the O'Neill fellow, not you Ravus, has no idea what he is talking about. The first obvious glaring statement worth of ridicule is his grouping ricin into biological weaponry. It's certainly not a biological entity, as the link from the CDC shows.
Quote:


source: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/ricin/facts.asp
Ricin is a poison that can be made from the waste left over from processing castor beans.




So right off the bat here, my first impression in the first few paragraphs, we are dealing with someone who doesn't know their materials. I'll now go into a paragraph by paragraph dissection and comment upon this article.

Quote:

Ravus said:
'Believe it or not, what we refer to as "weapons of mass destruction" are actually not very destructive.'




This guy includes nuclear weapons in his WMD grouping, and they aren't "very destructive"? A precursor of ignorance to come.
Quote:


Yet such fears remain widespread. Post-9/11, American and British leaders have issued dire warnings about terrorists getting hold of WMD and causing mass murder and mayhem. President George W Bush has spoken of terrorists who, 'if they ever gained weapons of mass destruction', would 'kill hundreds of thousands, without hesitation and without mercy' (1).




His ties of past usages and future possible uses isn't an apt comparison. Terrorists, due to their very nature, aren't able to fly over a city and carpet bomb them, so comparing a WMD attack with an attack by an organized, regular, technologically advanced army just isn't a viable comparison
Quote:


The British government has spent ?28million on stockpiling millions of smallpox vaccines, even though there's no evidence that terrorists have got access to smallpox, which was eradicated as a natural disease in the 1970s and now exists only in two high-security labs in America and Russia (2).




... that we know of. The Russians were in violation of numerous treaties in their development of biological weaponry. Are we to take Russias word that pre-collapse of communism they were keeping their promise to the world and not working on these items? Lets not waste any money developing vaccines, when we have the Russians word on things! Hell, for that matter, why trust the Americans? The b. anthracis used in the postal attacks came from USAMRIID at Ft. Detrick, near Frederick Maryland. Are we so sure that whoever stole that weaponized form of anthrax didn't manage to get a small amount of smallpox as well? Smallpox is so easy to reproduce en masse that most mushroom cultivators could do it. Agar, incubator, beginning bacteria, ready to go. It doesn't even require weaponization as the anthrax did.
Quote:


A biological weapon uses bacteria or viruses, such as smallpox, ricin or anthrax, to cause destruction - inducing sickness and disease as a means of undermining enemy forces or inflicting civilian casualties.




I've already dealt with this "experts" analysis of ricin as a biological weapon, something that compels me to believe he is full of horse poop.
Quote:


'The evidence is that states rarely use them even when they have them', he writes in a fascinating new paper on 'Terrorism and the Weapons of the Apocalypse'. 'Only when a military stalemate has developed, which belligerents who have become desperate want to break, are they used.'




A stalemate? People desperate to use any methods to end a conflict? That sounds like the position that the extreme islamicists believe themselves to be in now. Does the author believe that strapping a bomb to yourself with the intent of getting your 70 virgins is indicative of being "desperate"?
Quote:


(5) As to whether such use of chemicals was effective, Rapoport says that at best it blunted an offensive - but this very rarely, if ever, translated into a decisive strategic shift in the war, because the original stalemate continued after the chemical weapons had been deployed.




We aren't trying to study military history here, we are studying terrorism. We don't have a line of Al-Quead members dug into trenches just outside of New York, trying to hold off tanks. Military campaigns and terrorism are so vastly different that I can't understand why he is even trying to bring this into the picture. The fact that their haven't been any uses of biological or chemical (or nuclear, for that matter) weapons by terrorists means he has nothing to cite for accurate representation of these weapons effectiveness.
Quote:


According to Rapoport, this 'negligible' impact of chemical weapons on the direction of a war is reflected in the disparity between the numbers of casualties caused by chemicals and the numbers caused by conventional weapons. It is estimated that the use of gas in the Iran-Iraq war killed 5,000 - but the Iranian side suffered around 600,000 dead in total, meaning that gas killed less than one per cent.




5,000 people dead from biochem warfare? Imagine if 10 cells in 10 major American and British cities managed to kill "just" 5,000 people per city. That sounds pretty "massive" to me.
Quote:


'The estimates of how many were killed vary greatly', he tells me. 'Some say 400, others say 5,000, others say more than 5,000. The fighter planes that attacked the civilians used conventional as well as unconventional weapons; I have seen no study which explores how many were killed by chemicals and how many were killed by firepower. We all find these attacks repulsive, but the death toll may actually have been greater if conventional bombs only were used. We know that conventional weapons are more destructive.'




Again, I don't understand how a terrorism professor could make such a call and compare it with a terrorist use of these weapons. The terrorist won't be sitting in their bunkers in Whereveristan saying "OK, we'll use our massive fleet of B-52's to drop cluster and three ton bombs on New York City, because that would be better and mroe effective than using our F-15 Strike Eagles to launch smaller bombs filled with chemicals". The entire point of terrorism is using small units. These people don't have access to what he is calling "Conventional warfare" apparatus. For a terrorist, having a truck filled with diesel-soaked fertilizer can knock down a few buildings and scare some people, having a truck filled with anthrax spores, small pox, or other weapons could kill thousands.
Quote:


Rapoport says that terrorist use of chemical and biological weapons is similar to state use - in that it is rare and, in terms of causing mass destruction, not very effective. He cites the work of journalist and author John Parachini, who says that over the past 25 years only four significant attempts by terrorists to use WMD have been recorded. The most effective WMD-attack by a non-state group, from a military perspective, was carried out by the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka in 1990. They used chlorine gas against Sri Lankan soldiers guarding a fort, injuring over 60 soldiers but killing none.




Finally, something about terrorism. Chlorine gas isn't smallpox, it's not ricin, and it's not anthrax.
Quote:


The Tamil Tigers' use of chemicals angered their support base, when some of the chlorine drifted back into Tamil territory - confirming Rapoport's view that one problem with using unpredictable and unwieldy chemical and biological weapons over conventional weapons is that the cost can be as great 'to the attacker as to the attacked'.




I don't think that Al-Queda is worried about the smallpox bacterium drifting across the water into Manhattan, or into Long Island. Simply deploying it would be all they had in mind. We don't have Al-Queda bases set up that this material could drift back upon.
Quote:


The most infamous use of WMD by terrorists was in March 1995, when 10 members of Aum Shinryko, the strange Japanese religious cult, released sarin gas on the Tokyo Underground. The homemade gas was placed in plastic bags wrapped in newspapers. The cult members started the attack by puncturing the bags with umbrellas. Twelve people were killed; over 1,000 were hospitalised, 40 of whom were seriously injured.




Imagine if this were carried out "better" in New York subways... Pandemonium would ensue.


The rest of the article seems to be a copy of the "it hasn't happened yet, so why worry about it" philosophy. A true analysis of terrorism and WMD's would have to be conducted after an attack, as I think that releasing, say, a U-Haul truck filled with ricin in a crowded city would have disastrous effects not at all comperable with using them in open areas where trenches have been dug.


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Offlined33p
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Re: Weapons of Minimum Destruction [Re: retread]
    #3039573 - 08/23/04 02:50 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

To clarify for you retread Ricin is a biotoxin. Its scientific name is Ricinus communis lectin. So Ricin is indeed a biological agent but from looking at the original authors words i dont think he understood.

And poison does not imply a chemical. Most if not all biological weapons are also called poisons.


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Invisibleretread
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Registered: 07/14/04
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Re: Weapons of Minimum Destruction [Re: d33p]
    #3039677 - 08/23/04 03:20 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

Quote:

d33p said:
To clarify for you retread Ricin is a biotoxin. Its scientific name is Ricinus communis lectin. So Ricin is indeed a biological agent but from looking at the original authors words i dont think he understood.




Googling "ricin" brings up a number of matches. I feel, after reading all of them, that it is a toxin, rather than a living entity. E. Coli produces toxins that lead to death, but the toxins, per se, aren't living organisms. It is a protein toxin, I'll leave it up in the air and say that neither the author, nor myself, fully understood what exactly "ricin" is. I was using the fact that it isn't replicatable in the human body and spreadable person to person as an indication of it's biologicalness.
Quote:


And poison does not imply a chemical. Most if not all biological weapons are also called poisons.



poi?son ( P ) Pronunciation Key (poizn)
n.
A substance that causes injury, illness, or death, especially by chemical means.
Something destructive or fatal.
Chemistry & Physics. A substance that inhibits another substance or a reaction: a catalyst poison.


I'll say again that neither the author, nor myself, fully understood the action of ricin poisoning. "Ricin" isnt a biological entity, from what I understand, anymore than a fat cell is.


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Offlined33p
Welcome to Violence

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Re: Weapons of Minimum Destruction [Re: retread]
    #3039800 - 08/23/04 03:48 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

Quote:

retread said:
Googling "ricin" brings up a number of matches. I feel, after reading all of them, that it is a toxin, rather than a living entity. E. Coli produces toxins that lead to death, but the toxins, per se, aren't living organisms. It is a protein toxin, I'll leave it up in the air and say that neither the author, nor myself, fully understood what exactly "ricin" is. I was using the fact that it isn't replicatable in the human body and spreadable person to person as an indication of it's biologicalness.




Ricin is a protien and a biotoxin. It can be labeled as a biological reagent.

Quote:


poi?son ( P ) Pronunciation Key (poizn)
n.
A substance that causes injury, illness, or death, especially by chemical means.
Something destructive or fatal.
Chemistry & Physics. A substance that inhibits another substance or a reaction: a catalyst poison.




Are you refuting my claim?


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I'm a nihilist. Lets be friends.

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Invisibleretread
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Registered: 07/14/04
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Re: Weapons of Minimum Destruction [Re: d33p]
    #3039828 - 08/23/04 03:55 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

It's really neither here nor there. I admitted that I was mistaken in my understanding of ricin. My definition of "biological" didn't include the byproduct of biological entities. For example, hair isn't a "biological" entity, in the opinion/definition I was using. You can't culture ricin.

tox?in ( P ) Pronunciation Key (tksn)
n.
A poisonous substance, especially a protein, that is produced by living cells or organisms and is capable of causing disease when introduced into the body tissues but is often also capable of inducing neutralizing antibodies or antitoxins.


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