The Buzz

The American Military’s Real North Korea Nightmare Isn’t Nukes (Its Chemical Weapons)

After the Kuala Lumpur attack, Raymond Zilinskas, a chemical and biological nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said that VX fumes would have killed the attackers even if they were wearing gloves.

He suggested the VX agent used to kill Kim Jong-nam was made up of two non-lethal components that when mixed formed VX on the victim’s face. CCTV footage from Kuala Lumpur airport shows two young women touching Kim Jong-nam, apparently on the face, though the images are too hazy to show exactly what they were doing.

The nerve agent VX, or “venomous agent X”, is a tasteless and odorless liquid that was first developed in Britain in the 1950s. The US began producing it in 1961 at Newport Chemical Depot in the state of Indiana. The UN classifies VX as a weapon of mass destruction.

It has been banned by international conventions and cannot be used for anything except in chemical warfare. The US cancelled its chemical weapons program in 1969 and began destroying its stockpiles, first on Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific and later on the US mainland. The last of its chemical weapon stockpile was destroyed in December 2008.

It is uncertain when North Korea began its production of VX, but it was most likely in the 1960s when it also began to manufacture other nerve agents such as sarin, soman and tabun. VX, however, is believed to be the deadliest nerve agent ever created, of which even a drop of the lethal substance can kill a human.

After the Kuala Lumpur attack, Raymond Zilinskas, a chemical and biological nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said that VX fumes would have killed the attackers even if they were wearing gloves.

He suggested the VX agent used to kill Kim Jong-nam was made up of two non-lethal components that when mixed formed VX on the victim’s face. CCTV footage from Kuala Lumpur airport shows two young women touching Kim Jong-nam, apparently on the face, though the images are too hazy to show exactly what they were doing.

This first appeared in AsiaTimes here.

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