Guerrillas have also used chemical weapons in insurgencies. In 2007, groups of Iraqi guerrillas detonated vehicular-borne improvised explosive devices that combined conventional explosives with chlorine gas in canisters. These attacks were not very effective against their targets–Iraqi security forces and civilians as well as coalition troops. They would have been much more deadly against unprotected civilians.
Terrorist targeting of chemical facilities is also a grave concern. Various U.S. government and non-government experts had identified the United States as potentially vulnerable to terrorist attacks against chemical plants or rail tankers transporting toxic chemicals such as chlorine. In its “National Planning Scenarios,” the Department of Homeland Security used one scenario involving the detonation of a chlorine storage tank that resulted in 17,500 deaths and more than 100,000 injuries.
The potential magnitude of such disasters are well-known to Asians, who can readily recall the December 1984 toxic gas release at the Union Carbide India pesticide plant at Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, which exposed more than half a million people to methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals. Perhaps as many as 10,000 people died and many more have since suffered from their debilitating injuries. The Union Carbide Corporation claims a disgruntled worker sabotaged the plant. A terrorist could do likewise at many other chemical storage or production plants, which typically are not as heavily guarded as military, nuclear, or government facilities.
Although not as well-known as the gas attacks in Europe during World War I, Asian countries have used chemical weapons in their own conflicts. During the 1930 and 1940s, the Imperial Japanese Army that tried to conquer China abandoned hundreds of thousands of chemical munitions used for artillery shells on Chinese territory after Japan’s surrender. Following years of frustrating delays, China and Japan have only recently begun eliminating these weapons.
Japan has committed to paying all the elimination costs, including excavating the weapons, transporting them to a disposal point, and destroying them in an environmentally acceptable manner. But Japanese contractors have sometimes found working inside China on such a controversial issue challenging. The Chinese authorities arrested several of them on espionage charges in September 2010 to coerce the Japanese government into releasing the fishing boat captain who rammed several Japanese Coast Guard ships in the disputed waters of the East China Sea.
Although recent news coverage has focused on threats in the Middle East, North Korea is thought to have one of the world’s largest operational chemical weapons arsenals. General Leon LaPorte, former commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, said that North Korean military doctrine “is to use chemical weapons as a standard munition.”
The announcement a few years ago that South Korea had eliminated its own chemical weapons, like the earlier removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from ROK territory, had little impact on North Korea’s chemical weapons policy, partly because Seoul had always declined to publicize its chemical weapons holdings or elimination efforts.