Consequences of Using Weapons of Mass Destruction
in a U.S.-Iraqi War
- March 13 - With the United States poised to attack Iraq to disarm
it of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the Nuclear Program
at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) thought it was time
for a clear-eyed look at the potential consequences of using biological,
chemical or nuclear weapons in a U.S.-Iraqi war. Using satellite
imagery and special computer software developed by the Defense
Department, NRDC experts have run simulations of a number of plausible
scenarios that would threaten Iraqi troops and civilians, U.S.
and allied troops, and Israeli citizens.
is it for Iraq to resort to using weapons of mass destruction?
Most experts believe that Iraq does not possess nuclear weapons
or the capability to produce them anytime soon. Furthermore, either
out of fear of retaliation or the inability to effectively employ
them, Iraq did not use chemical or biological weapons during the
1991 Persian Gulf War against coalition forces or Israel. But
this time may be different. The U.S. objective of overthrowing
Saddam Hussein might prompt him to use chemical or biological
weapons -- if he possesses them.
did use chemical or biological weapons, how should the United
States respond? Both President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld
have stated that they reserve the right to use whatever is necessary
in Iraq, including nuclear weapons. The United States also is
considering using nuclear weapons -- so-called "bunker busters"
-- against deep underground military facilities. After weighing
the relative threats of battlefield biological and chemical weapons
compared to nuclear weapons, NRDC has concluded that any American
use of nuclear weapons in retaliation to a chemical or biological
attack would be a disproportionate response. It also would encourage
other nations to acquire and use nuclear weapons.
How NRDC Does
WMD Computer Simulations NRDC performed its calculations using
a Department of Defense computer code called HPAC, which is an
acronym for Hazard Prediction and Assessment Capability. HPAC
is actually a large collection of computer models primarily intended
to assist the Pentagon in planning U.S. attacks against targets
that house nuclear, biological or chemical materials. Secondarily,
HPAC supports emergency response to accidents or terrorist attacks
at chemical, biological and nuclear facilities in the United States.
In the HPAC
computer models, how and where a biological or chemical agent
disperses depends on atmospheric conditions (temperature, winds
and humidity) and the terrain (e.g., vegetation or desert). HPAC
models include the physical properties and toxic effects of a
wide variety of chemical and biological agents, as well as basic
data about the use of these agents in weapons (e.g., typical chemical
or biological fills for bombs, rockets or mortars). HPAC also
can calculate the effects of nuclear explosions -- blast, thermal,
initial radiation and fallout.
Chemical and Biological Weapons Chemical weapon systems come in
many forms, from long-range systems such as attack aircraft and
ballistic and cruise missiles, to shorter-range systems such as
artillery, multiple rocket launchers and mortars. Chemical attacks
are more militarily effective if they occur over large areas for
long durations and therefore require large quantities of the agent.
Biological and toxin weapons can be in the form of bombs, missiles,
artillery rounds or aircraft spray tanks. For a weapon to effectively
disperse a biological agent, it would have to produce a cloud
of suspended microscopic droplets (each droplet containing minute
quantities of the biological agent) and keep the agent alive long
enough after delivery to cause infection.
Iraq has had
extensive experience with chemical weapons on the battlefield
and against civilian populations. During the Iran-Iraq war in
the 1980s, Iraq used chemical weapons to repel enemy advances
or "prepare" an area for an offensive. Following such an attack,
Iraqi forces would wait for favorable winds or for the effects
of the agent to diminish before moving into the attacked area.
Nonetheless, large numbers of Iraqi troops were inadvertently
killed as a result of these chemical tactics. By the end of the
Iran-Iraq war, Iraqi forces routinely used chemical weapons.
to the public controversy over the Gulf War Syndrome, the federal
government declassified a large number of documents on Iraqi weapons
of mass destruction, which are available online. According to
these and other materials, Iraq's "preferred" delivery system
for chemical agents are 155-mm artillery guns with about 3 kilograms
of GB (sarin), GF (cyclosarin) or HD (sulfur mustard) agent per
shell. Iraq likely used these same agents in ballistic-missile
warheads, with 500 to 600 kilograms of agent in the short-range
(300 km-range) Scud B warheads and up to half of that in the longer-range
(Al Husayn or Al Abbas) missile warheads. Iraq did not fire missiles
with chemical or biological weapons during the Persian Gulf War.
Iraq is known
to have weaponized biological agents in the form of bombs. Recently
U.S. intelligence has emphasized the possibility that Iraq's remotely
piloted vehicles could deliver either chemical or biological agents
using spray tanks.
NRDC calculated the consequences of Iraqi chemical artillery and
ballistic missile attacks. NRDC also calculated what would happen
if U.S. or Iraqi forces destroyed biological weapons facilities
and released anthrax, or Iraqi forces delivered anthrax using
a remotely piloted vehicle. NRDC concluded that chemical weapons
represent much less of a threat than biological agents. The number
of infections from either accidental or deliberate release of
anthrax could number in the hundreds of thousands, whereas even
an intense barrage of chemical artillery or an attack using a
chemical ballistic missile warhead might result in thousands of
casualties for unprotected individuals.
Versus Chemical and Biological Attacks In his 1998 book, "Chemical-Biological
Defense: U.S. Military Policies and Decisions in the Gulf War,"
Albert Mauroni, a career U.S. military officer and an expert in
chemical and biological warfare, downplayed the threat of such
weapons on the battlefield:
Only if CB
[chemical and biological] weapons were used on civilians and population
centers, would they truly be "weapons of mass destruction." On
the military battlefield, these weapons, shorn of the ridiculous
air of menace given to them by politicians and the media, are
merely another tactical-operational factor like enemy air attacks
or unforeseen terrorist attacks; military forces can and do take
steps to minimize the effects of chemical-biological contamination.
If a military force invests a small amount of time and funds in
planning, defensive equipment and training, the immediate threat
of mass casualties is avoided, and chemical-biological weapons
become merely "weapons of mass disruption" instead of destruction.
It's really that simple -- if the military invests in equipment
and training, they maintain a viable combat force. If they do
not, their troops become as vulnerable as unprepared civilians.
Mauroni's view of chemical and biological warfare is characteristic
of current U.S. military thinking, and speaks to the issue of
whether a nuclear response by the United States would be warranted
and proportional to any Iraqi chemical or biological attack against
the U.S. military. A U.S. nuclear response, even one targeted
only at Iraqi military forces, could cause widespread fallout
and civilian casualties. A U.S. nuclear attack on Iraqi cities
would be catastrophic, killing millions of people.
could temper a nuclear response, such as the presence of U.S.
troops in areas where fallout might occur. Significantly, the
onset of disease from a biological attack and the full extent
of casualties would not be evident until days or weeks afterward,
during which time the war might progress to a point where nuclear
targeting of Iraq becomes impossible because of occupying allied
last fall President Bush asked the Pentagon to plan for the use
of nuclear weapons in response to chemical or biological weapon
attacks or even the mere threat of them. On September 14, he signed
a national security directive specifying two possible roles for
using nuclear weapons against adversaries such as Iraq: attacking
facilities located deep underground, and thwarting an enemy's
use of chemical or biological weapons. Merely planning to use
nuclear weapons could increase the likelihood that the president
would choose it as an option. At a time when the United States
should do everything it can to curb the spread of nuclear weapons,
planning for their use encourages proliferation and could prompt
other nations to consider nuclear weapons as just another option
on the battlefield.
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