"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
March 2006
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
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William Burr’s “The Limits of Limited Nuclear War,” in the January/February issue of Arms Control Today incorrectly described the smallest nuclear option in current U.S. military war plans as an attack with 150 nuclear weapons. The relevant sentence on p. 44 should have read, “In the following years, however, U.S. war plans began to provide for truly small limited options; they now range between 2 and 120 nuclear weapons, close to what Nixon-era policymakers were seeking.”

• A headline on p. 21 of the same issue was inaccurate. The headline mischaracterized an article by Alexander Glaser and Frank von Hippel about the debate over ending the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in medical-isotope production. The article should have been entitled “Ending HEU Use in Medical-Isotope Production.”



Chirac Outlines Expanded Nuclear Doctrine

Oliver Meier

French President Jacques Chirac Jan. 19 outlined changes to his country’s strategic policy, providing unprecedented detail about the circumstances under which France might be prepared to use nuclear weapons. The speech at the nuclear headquarters of the Strategic Air and Maritime Forces in Brittany represented the first major speech by Chirac on the subject since 2001.

Deterrence Broadened

Chirac emphasized that France’s nuclear arsenal continues to defend the country’s vital interests. But he broadened the definition of those interests beyond traditional concerns such as the protection of territory and population as well as the “free exercise of sovereignty.” According to Chirac, France’s vital interests now include “strategic supplies and the defense of allied countries.” Even threats or blackmail against these interests could require a nuclear response from Paris, he said.

Chirac also expanded the list of countries to be deterred by the French nuclear arsenal to include states that support terrorists. “The leaders of states who would use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using, in one way or another, weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part,” Chirac warned. “This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.” Following a traditional line of French strategic thinking, Chirac maintained that terrorists themselves cannot be deterred by nuclear weapons.

Chirac’s speech was mainly directed at new regional powers, such as Iran, that possess weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missiles or are threatening to do so. Chirac insisted that France “under no circumstances” would use a nuclear weapon for purely military, as opposed to broader “strategic,” purposes. However, the president also cautioned that France could inflict “damage of any kind on a major power that would want to attack interests we would regard as vital.”

To make nuclear threats against regional powers more credible, Chirac said, French strategic nuclear weapons have been recon figured to be more flexible and reactive, enabling Paris to respond directly against such states. French Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie explained to the Munich Conference on Security Policy Feb. 4 that this means that French nuclear strategy is now designed to have the added ability to hold at risk those who are directly threatening French interests, such as a country’s leadership.

Nuclear Modernization

France does not disclose details about its nuclear arsenal, but outside experts such as Bruno Tertrais of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research have estimated that it possesses 348 nuclear warheads, based on four strategic submarines and 84 nuclear bombers. Some 288 of the warheads are said to have been deployed on M45 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). M45 missiles are believed to carry up to six warheads with a yield of 100 kilotons each. The remaining 60 warheads, with a yield of 300 kilotons, are be lieved deployed on ASMP air-to-surface cruise missiles aboard navy and air force bombers.

France is modernizing all components of its nuclear force. A new M51.1 SLBM is expected to enter service by 2010 and will have an extended range of 6,000 kilometers compared to the 4,000-kilometer range of the M45 it will replace. A new supersonic ASMP- Amélioré missile with an extended range of 400-500 kilometers is expected to enter service by 2007. By 2008, Rafale bombers will carry French ASMPs, replacing the nuclear-armed Mirage 2000N and Super Étendard. New nuclear warheads are under development for the navy as well as the air force and are expected to become operational in 2015 and 2007, respectively. These efforts, Chirac argued, give France “the means to cover threats wherever they arise and whatever their nature.”

The Feb. 9 edition of the French daily Libération claimed to pro vide further classified details, saying that French policy now aims to make firing a nuclear “last warning” more credible. According to the report, France has modified some of its nuclear weapons so that they can be detonated at high altitudes. This would create an electromagnetic pulse and damage an enemy’s electronic systems. France could also detonate a single nuclear weapon at an uninhabited area, for example a desert, in order to demonstrate its resolve to use nuclear weapons more widely. According to the article, the number of warheads on some French SLBMs has been reduced, and these weapons can now be retargeted while submarines are at sea.

Context and Audience

The timing of Chirac’s speech suggests a connection to the escalat ing crisis on Iran’s nuclear program. A French diplomat told Arms Control Today Feb. 9 that preparation of the statement took place in the context of the crisis around Iran’s nuclear program. However, the official pointed out that “the speech was not directed at one particular country; rather, it was aimed at new regional powers” more generally.

Addressing domestic critics of nuclear weapons spending, Chirac said it would be “irresponsible” not to devote about 10 percent of French defense spending (roughly $3.75 billion) to such weapons each year.

Invoking the term “concerted deterrence,” which he had first used in 1995, Chirac also tried to place French nuclear forces in the context of European defense. He renewed an invitation to EU partners to debate “together, the question of a common [European] defense that would take into account of existing deterrent forces, with a view to a strong Europe responsible for its security.”

This overture fell on deaf ears, however, at least in Germany, France ’s closest ally in the European Union. While a government spokesperson in Berlin played down the speech as not indicating a change of French policy, others criticized its timing, content, and style. Andreas Schockenhoff, defense and foreign policy expert for the co-governing Christian Democratic Party, told Reuters Jan. 20 that “[w]e have to convince these countries [like Iran] that their situation isn’t going to get any better if they possess nuclear weapons. I don’t think Chirac’s approach is really the best way to lead this debate and to increase pressure on Iran.”

Gert Weisskirchen, foreign policy spokesperson for the Social Democrats, the other half of the governing coalition, told Spiegel Online the same day that he saw Chirac’s speech “as a unilateral declaration on the part of the French president, and it’s something he ought to have discussed with his European partners first.”

Chirac’s statement contained no news on French arms control policies. France, which is the only nuclear-weapon state to have dismantled its facilities for the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, continues to support negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty, he said. But Paris otherwise conditions progress in nuclear disarmament on global security and on other nuclear-weapon states’ policies, Chirac asserted.


A Never-Ending Story?

War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare From World War I to Al-Qaeda, by Jonathan B. Tucker, Pantheon Books, February 2006, 496 pp.

Michael Moodie

In War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare From World War I to Al-Qaeda, Jonathan Tucker reaffirms his stature as one of the world’s leading experts on the dangers to global security posed by chemical weapons. His new book is a highly detailed, richly fascinating account of the emergence of chemical weapons through the 20th century, of the efforts to combat them, and of the continuing challenge they pose to the health and well-being of humankind.

Tucker’s story weaves together strands of science, political security issues, and people, and the book’s great strength is not only its ability to deal with each strand individually but to demonstrate how they interact.

With respect to science, the author provides detailed explanations of the often-complex chemistry involved in making chemical weapons, and he does so in terms readily understandable to the general reader with a modest sci ence background. The volume is filled with discussions of how the key players throughout the last 100 years applied science and engineering to such key areas as the design of chemical weapons delivery systems such as artillery shells, rocket launchers, and missile warheads. Tucker details national efforts, including by Nazi Germany, the United States and the So viet Union during the Cold War, and late 20th-century Iraq, to create an industrial infrastructure for the production of the thousands of tons of agent necessary for effective use on the battlefield. He also includes discussions of how science was applied in the essential testing component of chemical weapons programs, whether it was by states or by substate actors such as the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo. That cult bought an Australian sheep station to test its version of the nerve gas sarin as an aerosol before its attack on the Tokyo subway. When finished, the reader has a clear appreciation of the critical role that science and engineering play in yielding such a deadly poisonous result.

The second thread of Tucker’s story fo cuses on security perceptions, policies, and politics that both provide the incentive for actors, whether state or nonstate, to pursue chemical weapons and give shape to the specific programs and pursuits that characterize individual efforts. He does a fine job detailing the German perspective on chemical weapons as that country took the lead in developing chemical weapons capabili ties during and after World War I. He also provides an excellent account of the evolution of the U.S. and Soviet programs during the Cold War. Particularly, he highlights the reality that, especially in the last half of the 20th century, moving to the next level of chemical weapons capability was not always an easy, clear, or uncontroversial decision.

A good example is his treatment of the debate in the United States over the utility and appropriateness of binary chemical weapons that began in the late 1970s and came to a head during the Reagan administration. It was then that Congress, in a hotly debated decision, ultimately reached a compromise allowing development of these capabilities but not their overseas deploy ment. As Tucker points out in an observa tion that has wider applicability, “[t]he fact that support for binary weapons correlated poorly with party affiliation and ideology made for some strange political bedfel lows.” The same was true of opposition to the binary program, but then, strange alliances seem to be a consistent feature of the history of chemical weapons.

Tucker also does a good job elaborating the geopolitical circumstances in which chemical weapons programs emerged and developed. Tucker had served as a UN weapons inspector in Iraq in 1995, and his treatment of Baghdad’s chemical weapons program is especially rich: how it came about, how it was used in Iraq’s war with Iran , and how ultimately it was dismantled by UN inspectors following the 1991 Per sian Gulf War. The book is careful to put this detailed examination of Iraq into the context of evolving regional security politics, not only in terms of Iraq’s rivalry with Iran but also with respect to the broader Middle East . It shows the ripple effects of decisions made in Baghdad or elsewhere, including the implications for Egypt, Syria, and Israel, all of which are also believed to have had chemical weapons at one time and in some cases may still have them.

One exception to this generally careful geopolitical discussion is East Asia, in par ticular North Korea. Despite a number of valuable and credible open sources, Tucker pays virtually no attention to the history of Pyongyang’s chemical weapons capability, which could date to the 1950s; nor does he address the implications for East Asian se curity, including how Pyongyang’s chemical weapons capabilities have interacted with the challenge of nuclear politics.

The third important element of Tucker’s story is the people. War of Nerves underlines a valuable lesson: that the history with which we have to contend is the product not of abstract forces or trends but of peo ple and their beliefs, concerns, fears, values, decisions, and actions or lack thereof. Tucker is particularly good at drawing quick character sketches, often adding personal details or vignettes that demonstrate the participants’ humanity in all its dimen sions, good and bad.

This ability reveals itself particularly in the first third of the book that concentrates on developments in Germany from the beginning of the century through the end of World War II. It is less evident in the latter parts of the book. This is perhaps because the story becomes more complex with the advent of the Cold War as the number of actors and issues increases. Yet, individuals played no less a role in the second half of the 20th century than the first. The author often identifies the players, but he does less to help us understand their views and motivations. That is too bad because those years had no dearth of “colorful” and powerful personalities integral to the story. The one exception is Tucker’s excellent presentation of the Soviet/Russian “whistleblower” Vil Mirzayanov, who brought to the world’s attention Russia’s continued chemical weapons activities intended to circumvent the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

This absence is consistent with the volume’s major shortcoming, that is, what is not there rather than what is. It is a book that is certainly loaded with important detail, but two risks exist in such an approach. First, it can overwhelm the general reader with facts, and Tucker sometimes provides a level of information beyond what someone with even a strong interest in the subject needs or wants. Second, it creates the potential for “not seeing the forest for the trees.” That sometimes happens in Tucker’s book, at least insofar as the trees are defined very precisely while the forest remains a bit hazy.

This shortfall is the result of the author leaving too much of the assessment to the reader. Tucker never really makes his case explicit as to why he thinks this is an im portant story to be told and why the reader should have an interest. He does argue briefly in his opening pages that chemical weapons “serve no peaceful purpose,” but that is true of most weapons systems. So, what makes the story of chemical weapons special, particularly for us today?

Tucker suggests that it is important because of the existence of an inherent hu man taboo or norm against the use of poisons as instruments of violence. To some extent, his story is one of constant pressure working to erode that norm. With respect to that pressure, in reviewing the strands of the history Tucker so usefully intertwines, one could argue that science makes it possible; perceptions and politics, especially as they relate to “military necessity,” provide the rationale; and people make it happen. Is Tucker’s message, then, that in the future each of these elements requires close at tention so that their confluence, which we witnessed in earlier times to devastating effect, is never allowed to happen again? He does not tell us.

This problem could be a result of the essentially chronological organization Tucker uses to structure his narrative. Again, because the story is simpler in its early days, a chronological approach is useful for the period through World War II. The situation becomes more complex, however, with the arrival of the Cold War; the spread of chemical weapons capabilities beyond those involved directly in the East-West standoff, especially in the developing world; and eventually chemical weapons use by terrorists. So, the reader finds that, in the latter chapters, the chronological narrative skips from decisions in Iraq to events in Russia to diplomatic negotiations in Geneva to congressional politics in Washingtonto the efforts of Aum Shinrikyo in Japan. Telling what happened in the order it happened sometimes makes it difficult to bring into sharp relief the implications of those developments. Had the author provided a more expansive vision of why he thought this was an important exercise and elaborated on the key themes that supported his argument, the reader may have been better able to retain focus.

Telling a complicated story in any vol ume of this length entails tough choices of what to include and what to leave out. Some of Tucker’s choices are frustrating. As mentioned, he provides remarkably detailed scientific information, even though some other important aspects of the story could have benefited from a richer telling. In par ticular, despite the author’s clear commit ment to the importance of the CWC and the norm against chemical weapons that it embodies, the CWC narrative left this reader unsatisfied. Although this book is not a history of the CWC—a subject that would benefit greatly from the author’s talents—it is an important aspect of the story that he relates at only a rather high level of generality. As a result, the story does not yield the additional insights that it could on some issues that resonate today.

One leitmotif of the CWC negotiations, for example, was the tension that existed between developed and developing coun tries regarding the latter’s demand for cooperation and assistance in acquiring and exploiting the science and technology covered by the treaty for peaceful purposes. This tension still not only haunts the CWC’s implementation, but it is a peren nial issue in other multilateral security forums, including those addressing both the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Some insight into this issue, how it played out in the negotiations, and how and why it continues to assert itself today would have been helpful. Other aspects of the CWC story, including the sad tale of its quite conditional ratification and imple mentation by Congress, also deserve more than the few paragraphs they are allotted.

A final “missing piece” of the story, one to which the author is clearly sensitive and hints at but which would have benefited from more elaboration, relates to the future. In particular, what do current trends and developments in science, industry, and security suggest regarding the extent to which what lies ahead will be marked by continuity or discontinuity with what has gone before? One paragraph at the very end of the book mentions the changing nature of the threat that could result from scientific and technological innovations such as the partnering of combinatorial chemistry with high-throughput screening of molecules or the widespread industrial adoption of “microreactors.” These devel opments are mentioned, but that is all. No discussion is provided, for example, of how they might be used to generate new, nontraditional chemical agents. Nor does the book consider how the global chemical industry has changed in the last 15 years in terms of its geographic distribution and its methods of operation. Both have important potential implications, not only for identifying new, unknown chemical agents but also for the continued relevance of CWC measures designed to ensure that illicit activities do not occur.

As the book so distressingly shows, because some key chemical weapons discoveries were accidents emerging from industrial research, such as pesticide development, these implications deserve some atten tion. Similarly, the interest that terrorists have shown in and the concern that has arisen about the security of toxic industrial chemicals as either the means or the targets of terrorist attacks suggest that the concept of what constitutes a “chemical weapon” may be expanding beyond those traditional ones designed for battlefield use that are the subject of this volume. Rather than essentially listing them in a few short para graphs, some elaboration of the challenges ahead would have reinforced the author’s case that this history is worth examining.

In making this comment, one must recognize that Tucker’s aim in writing this volume was not futurology, but history. To that end, he has succeeded remarkably. It is a work that cogently and richly tells the story of a man-made plague that has lasted more than a century and shows every intention of remaining on the global security agenda. Knowing from where we have come helps us know where we are going and whether we are on track. Jonathan Tucker’s book provides an invaluable contribution to the former, and we should all hope that he continues to apply his masterful talents to assisting us with the latter.

Editor’s Note: Jonathan Tucker is a member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

Michael Moodie is a consultant who has worked for more than 15 years in chemical and biological weapons issues in government and the policy research community. He headed the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute and served as assistant director for multilateral affairs at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

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A Review of War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare From World War I to Al-Qaeda by Jonathan B. Tucker


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