Military researcher explains chemical warfare at SMC

After a deadly attack in Syria on Aug. 21, the United Nations confirmed that sarin, a deadly chemical nerve agent, was the culprit. Syria is just one of only a few countries in the world that has not yet banned chemical weapons, and although they were banned by most countries in the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, these weapons are still out there.

This was the topic of the Global Connections Lecture Series held at Santa Monica College by Jim Quinlivan, senior operations research analyst at the RAND corporation, last Thursday concerning the effects, benefits, and drawbacks of globalization, while seeking to help broaden the perspective of students as global citizens.

At the lecture, Quinlivan said that while 74 percent of chemical weapons in the world have been destroyed, they are still in the possession of many countries.

Chemical weapons were made illegal after World War I and a comprehensive treaty banning production and stockpiling of chemical weapons took effect in 1997.

"All of a sudden, you have to look at pictures of people being killed to trigger some international crisis," he said.

These weapons are still a worry because they are uniquely dangerous weapons. Besides the fact that the stocks of chemical weapons are being destroyed, there is still a fear that terrorists may be able to get ahold of them.

"There is a market for terror," Quinlivan said. "Chemical weapons are a more accessible means of killing people because they're easy to make. However, it's not so much about the agent itself, it's how you weaponize it."

A series of pictures of chemical bombs used in past wars were shown during the lecture to illustrate how these chemical agents are spread to make contact with people. The chemicals are essentially placed into projectiles with agents that will blister and release them said Quinlivan. One example was a chemical bomb used in the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s where 6,500 chemical weapons were declared used.

Many lethal gases and chemicals that are used in warfare were also discussed. The elite chemicals, however, are the nerve agents, Quinlivan said. The chemical sarin came from Germany before World War II, and is extremely potent as a nerve agent that, even at low concentrations, it can be deadly.

Another chemical nerve agent, sulfur mustard, was the premier killing weapon of World War II, and it still out there to this day. This particular chemical weapon will probably be the last to be destroyed because there is just so much of it left, Quinlivan said.

"Because of the way we're destroying it, which is a chemical process and not incineration, it's probably going to cost us a million dollars to get rid of something we created back in the 1940s," he said.

He also spoke about the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, where the development, production, acquisition, retention, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons was prohibited. It also established the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. North Korea and Egypt are other countries that have not signed or ratified the Chemicals Weapon Conventions, according to the OPCW official website.

While chemical weapons still exist in the world and a few countries have yet to accept the treaty, the question still remains about how they, like Syria, will get rid of them.

"OPCW only monitors those who have agreed to the treaty," Quinlivan said. "It's about working with, rather than seizing and forcing others to do so."

The lecture series will continue on through Oct. 31 and Nov. 19th and are free and open to the public.

Fabian AvellanedaComment