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.

  • Report

    Environmental Biodetection and Human Biosurveillance Research and Development for National Security: Priorities for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate

    This report examines the Department of Homeland Security's chemical and biological defense research and development portfolio to identify priorities for future investments to effectively address biological threats.

    Nov 28, 2018

  • The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile April 14, 2018

    Commentary

    What Does Mission Accomplished in Syria Really Mean?

    The use of chemicals cannot be allowed to become an acceptable form of warfare either in Syria or anywhere else. Mission accomplishment in Syria, just like in chemical weapon nonproliferation, will require far more than missile strikes alone.

    Apr 30, 2018

  • A police notice is attached to screening surrounding a restaurant which was visited by former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia before they were found on a park bench after being poisoned in Salisbury, Britain, March 19, 2018

    Commentary

    Arms Control Hostage to Skripal and Syria Attacks

    Two prominent poisoning assassination attempts and Kremlin denials of gas attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad raise doubts about Moscow's commitment to the purposes of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Never has the future of negotiated arms control involving Russia been at greater risk.

    Apr 19, 2018

  • Syrian medical staff take part in a training exercise on how to treat victims of chemical weapons attacks, Gaziantep, Turkey, July 20, 2017

    Commentary

    Are Chemical Weapons Becoming a Tacitly Accepted Weapon of War?

    The international community should consider serious options to hold perpetrators of chemical attacks accountable and stop further attacks. These are not easy choices. But the alternative is accepting that long-held norms are crumbling, and the world is sliding back to a time when inhumane tools of war were common.

    Apr 18, 2018

  • The official mascot for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, Zabivaka, is on display, with a tower of the Kremlin seen in the background, in central Moscow, Russia November 29, 2017

    Commentary

    Hit Russia Where It Hurts: Take Away World Cup

    After a chemical attack in Great Britain, U.K., U.S. and other governments responded unilaterally. But this crime cries out for a more collective response. Revoking Russia's right to host the World Cup tournament would be a powerful signal of global outrage and would hit Putin where it hurts.

    Apr 5, 2018

  • Emergency services staff work next to a children's play area near the bench where former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned in Salisbury, UK, March 13, 2018

    Commentary

    Russian Nerve Agent from Skripal Attack a Deadly Game-Changer

    The use of Novichok in last week's attack against Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia demands global condemnation and an insistence that Russia account for how the nerve agent came to be used at all, much less on foreign soil.

    Mar 19, 2018

  • Multimedia

    Assessing North Korea's Chemical and Biological Weapons Capabilities and Prioritizing Countermeasures

    International policy analyst John V. Parachini outlines what is known about North Korea's chemical and biological weapons capabilities—and what can be done to mitigate the threats.

    Jan 17, 2018

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) speaks to Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army, Pyongyang, July 27, 2013

    Testimony

    North Korea's Chemical and Biological Weapons Capabilities—and How to Counter Them

    Any conflict on the Korean Peninsula could entail the use of chemical or biological weapons. For this reason, it's important to ensure the attention given to North Korea's nuclear weapons doesn't cause authorities to overlook these threats.

    Jan 17, 2018

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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