North Korea's newly-tested nuke is bad news, for sure. But the bigger worry, says Popular Mechanics is the "huge arsenal of mass casualty weapons" that Kim & Co. have been assembling for 45 years: biological and chemical arms.
While it would be foolish not to be gravely concerned about North Korea's purported development of an offensive nuclear capability, the actual threat for the foreseeable future is, arguably, minimal. North Korea's threadbare economy (it has a GDP of $40 billion - compare that to California's gross state product on $1.55 trillion per year) is incapable of maintaining an effective nuclear weapons program. Its nuclear science is at best second rate and, certainly, is second hand.In contrast, as one North Korea expert explained to me, CBW is mass destruction on the cheap. "Biological and chemical weapons are very inexpensive, many, many times cheaper than nuclear." Another expert gave this grim assessment: "The use of anthrax is a distinct possibility for this nation [North Korea]..."The consensus among weapons inspectors, intelligence analysts, academics and others I have interviewedwhich is backed up by the available open source material-is that North Korea has developed anthrax, plague and botulism toxin as weapons and has extensively researched at least six other germs including smallpox and typhoid. It is also believed to have 5,000 tons or more of mustard gas, sarin nerve agent and phosgene (a choking gas). The Center for Nonproliferation Studies says North Korea ranks "amongst the largest possessors of chemical weaponry in the world." South Korea's military estimates half of North's long-range missiles and 30 percent of its artillery are CBW capable...Yet the West's myopic obsession with North Korea's nuclear efforts has allowed this far more real and equally lethal threat to escape into the shadows: a WMD program, backed by in excess of 13,000 specially trained troops, capable of devastating its southern neighbor, attacking U.S. troops in Asia and disrupting the regional economy in ways that could see the U.S. and other western nations plunged into crisis.Yes, the new [United Nations] resolution 1718(2006) includes a reference to biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, but only as an afterthought, and the resolution exists only because of the nukes and their perceived threat. Unfortunately, in this case, as with others, the world is overly focused on a potential retina-searing nuclear detonation, without properly appreciating the very clear-and-present CBW killer that exists just a virtual button's push away from Kim Jong Il's perfectly manicured fingernails.If the whole thing sounds a little hysterical to you, chem-bio guru Jason Sigger says: get real. The story is "100 percent right in regards to N. Korea. And you can extend that argument to China, Iran, Syria, Israel, Pakistan, and India, and potentially in the near future (because of Iran), Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others."
Seriously, I see this all the time in the "combating WMD" community. The arms control and counterproliferation people talk "WMD" but the subtext is "nuke." Even the majority of the consequence management tasks are now "dirty bomb" or "improvised nuclear device" scenarios... [the] mentality is [that] nukes are the only thing that can drastically affect US military power in any region of the world.But there are other threats, too.