Chemical Weapons and Warfare

The use of chemical weapons to injure or incapacitate an enemy has been an element of warfare since World War I. RAND has developed exercises to train public health agencies to respond to chemical warfare; examined the longer-term psychological consequences of chemical attacks; and created guidelines to improve individual preparedness for chemical, radiological, nuclear, and biological emergencies.

  • A woman affected by a gas attack breathes through an oxygen mask inside a field hospital in Kfar Zeita village, Hama, Syria, April 12, 2014

    Commentary

    Assad's Attacks Should Not Be Repeated, Forgotten, or Excused

    Despite signing the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty in October 2013, Assad has continued chemical attacks on the Syrian opposition. To counter Assad and others who might turn to the use of chemical weapons, the U.S. could collaborate with other major powers to bolster the international ban on them.

    Aug 15, 2017

  • In an interview with Russian state television on September 12, 2013, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said Damascus would send documents to the United Nations needed to join a convention that prohibits chemical weapons

    Commentary

    Regional Action Needed to Prevent Syrian Chemical Attacks

    Action must be taken to deter future use of chemical weapons. Regional leaders could call for the International Criminal Court to indict Assad for war crimes. Also, borders with Syria could be sealed to prevent any of the remaining stocks from leaving the country.

    May 8, 2017

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to people attending a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017.

    Commentary

    China's Role in Dissuading North Korea from a Chemical Weapons Attack

    North Korea's brash pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and disregard for chemical weapons norms are enormously troubling. China's engagement will be essential in convincing Kim Jong Un that the use of chemical weapons is a red line that cannot be crossed.

    Apr 24, 2017

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem in Moscow, June 29, 2015

    Commentary

    How the West Can Press Putin to Keep Assad in Order

    Moscow has achieved tactical successes in Syria, but without Western and regional help, its long-term strategic interests could be at risk. Denying strong evidence that the regime of Bashar al-Assad attacked civilians with sarin gas makes it harder for Moscow to obtain the Western and regional help it needs to secure its interests there.

    Apr 24, 2017

  • The guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a Tomahawk land attack missile April 7, 2017

    Commentary

    (Withholding) Judgment of the U.S. Missile Strike on Syria

    Will the U.S. missile strike in Syria constrain the Assad regime from future chemical weapons use? Rather than pass judgment, analysts should establish the benchmarks by which they will assess this decision once the facts are in.

    Apr 19, 2017

  • U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley prepares to speak at a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, April 12, 2017

    Commentary

    The Limits of Going It Alone in Syria

    Very little on the ground in Syria has changed since the U.S. missile strikes against the Assad regime. To translate this military action into policy gains, it will be necessary to follow up with increased diplomatic coordination with international partners and institutions.

    Apr 18, 2017

  • A man breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017.

    Commentary

    Why Would Assad Use Chemical Weapons?

    The use of chemical weapons today provokes international condemnation, if not always action. Those who order their deployment risk being charged with war crimes. So why would Syria's President Bashar Assad use them?

    Apr 14, 2017

  • A battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, following U.S. missile strikes, April 6, 2017

    Commentary

    The Need for a Strategy from the Trump Administration

    The Trump administration's strategy toward Syria, Russia, and its campaign to counter the Islamic State group needs to be guided by a clear sense of priorities and realism regarding the stakes for the U.S. Its standing in the Middle East and the world could depend on how skillfully this crisis is handled.

    Apr 10, 2017

  • Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov (right) attends a meeting on Syria at U.N. headquarters in New York City, April 5, 2017

    Commentary

    Why the Syria Chemical Attack Is a Big Problem for Putin

    The growing use of chemicals and toxins as tools of assassination and terrorism are troubling trends. Global expressions of outrage over the latest attack in Syria could weaken Assad’s international support. Russia should listen and abandon its support for the regime while joining the international chorus of denunciation.

    Apr 6, 2017

  • People rush to a site hit by what activists said was heavy shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, June 16, 2015

    Commentary

    Holding Assad Accountable for Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

    With two no votes from China and Russia, the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution punishing Syrian officials for their roles in chlorine attacks in 2014 and 2015. Leadership from the United States on this issue could show allies that despite a change in government, the U.S. remains committed to holding those who use chemical weapons accountable.

    Mar 22, 2017

  • North Korean ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol speaks during a news conference regarding the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 20, 2017

    Commentary

    Death by Nerve Gas: Two Arrests, Many Questions in Attack in Malaysia

    Details about the murder of Kim Jong-Un's half-brother are still being uncovered. If a firm connection to North Korea can be made, others in the region should react strongly. Otherwise, Kim may conclude that further provocations are worth it.

    Mar 7, 2017

  • Report

    Troubled waters: a snapshot of security challenges in the Mediterranean region

    This publication is part of a series of four RAND Perspectives (PE) each focusing on different challenges in the Mediterranean region. The focus of this PE is on defence and security issues and their implications for regional stability.

    Jan 26, 2017

  • A tank is seen as fighters from Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government take position during a battle with Islamic State militants in Sirte, Libya, September 22, 2016

    Commentary

    Keep Chemical Weapons Out of Terrorist Hands

    As the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front seized territory in Syria and northern Iraq, they came upon military sites with chemical munitions and industrial facilities with toxic chemicals. Reducing such opportunities should be a priority.

    Sep 27, 2016

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands following their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, September 9, 2016

    Commentary

    Syria Cease-Fire Should Ban Chemical Weapons

    The United States and Russia negotiated an agreement to suspend fighting in Syria and get relief supplies to trapped civilians. They should not miss an opportunity to regularly and forcefully draw a red line on the use of toxic chemicals as weapons.

    Sep 15, 2016

  • Marina Litvinenko, widow of murdered ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, poses with a copy of The Litvinenko Inquiry Report with her son Anatoly during a news conference in London, Britain, January 21, 2016

    Commentary

    Troubling Truth Beneath Litvinenko Headlines

    Slipping radioactive material into a spy's tea in the middle of London may not sound like a CBRN attack, but it is, as the Owen report has confirmed. Hopefully, the report's release will help focus global attention on the growing threat posed by these devastating weapons.

    Jan 21, 2016

  • A chlorine-tinged cloud of smoke rises from a bomb detonated by Iraqi army and Shi'ite fighters in the town of al-Alam in Salahuddin province, March 10, 2015

    Commentary

    ISIS Plus Chemical Weapons Does Not Equal Apocalypse

    The renewed use of chemical weapons on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria is a dangerous regional phenomenon, not an imminent global threat.

    Sep 11, 2015

  • Medicins Sans Frontieres health workers disinfect protection clothes and boots outside the isolation unit at ELWA hospital in Monrovia August 23, 2014

    Commentary

    Ebola and Syria's Chemical Weapons Show U.S. Can Leave Nothing to Chance

    There are key takeaways from the Ebola outbreak, Syria's chemical weapons, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The U.S. and its international partners should view these events as learning opportunities that could help improve preparedness and response capabilities before the next crisis strikes.

    Jul 9, 2015

  • U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye at a joint news conference in Seoul, April 2014

    Commentary

    N.K. WMDs Carry Catastrophic Potential

    The failure of the United States and South Korea to prevent North Korea from gaining significant quantities of weapons of mass destruction saddles those governments with serious military responsibilities, should North Korea go to war or should its government collapse.

    Nov 19, 2014

  • Sailors patrol through yellow smoke simulating chemical, biological, and radiological exposure during combat

    Report

    Developing Navy Capability to Recover Forces in Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Hazard Environments

    How do you recover and decontaminate amphibious forces if they are attacked with chemical, biological, or radiological weapons while ashore?

    Jan 28, 2014

  • A man sits atop a lamp post waving pictures of Bashar Al Assad

    Report

    The Dynamics of Syria's Civil War

    As the Syrian conflict enters its third year, uncertainty persists regarding the circumstances on the ground, potential outcomes, and long-term consequences.

    Jan 17, 2014