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War of Nerves:
War of Nerves is a detailed history for the general reader of the discovery, development, proliferation, and control of nerve agents such as Tabun, Sarin, Soman, and VX, the most lethal class of chemical weapons. These supertoxic poisons have no peaceful uses and, when inhaled or absorbed through the skin, are lethal in tiny amounts by disrupting the operation of the nervous system.
First discovered accidentally during the 1930s by industrial chemists in Germany conducting pesticide research, the nerve agents Tabun and Sarin were developed into chemical weapons and stockpiled by the Nazi regime. Fortunately, Hitler did not order their use during World War II because German intelligence believed--incorrectly--that the United States and the Soviet Union had developed similar weapons. After the war, the victorious Allies competed among themselves for the secrets of the Nazi nerve agent program. In the early 1950s, British industrial scientists accidentally discovered a second generation of nerve agents that were even more toxic than Sarin and were dubbed "V agents" because of their venomous (skin-penetrating) properties. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union pursued a chemical arms race in which they produced and stockpiled various nerve agents in the thousands of tons.
Beginning in the 1960s, the technology, materials, and know-how needed to manufacture nerve agents spread to the Middle East and other zones of conflict in the developing world. During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, Saddam Hussein's Iraq was the first country to employ nerve agents on a large scale, initially against Iranian troops and then against its own Kurdish minority. In the early 1990s, the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo acquired the capability to produce nerve agents, ushering in a new era of chemical terrorism. On March 20, 1995, Aum members released a dilute solution of Sarin on the Tokyo subway, killing twelve people, injuring about a thousand, and terrifying millions. Today, al-Qaeda and related terrorist groups are seeking to acquire nerve agents, even as the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) banning the development, possession, and use of chemical arms is being implemented by some 175 member-states. Thus, the world is at a crossroads that could lead either to the further proliferation of these heinous weapons or to their ultimate abolition.
By illuminating the little-known history of nerve agents, War of Nerves provides important insights into current issues, including the 2003 Iraq War and the ongoing threat of chemical terrorism. Written in a lively narrative style, the book contains new historical information about the Soviet Union's secret development of "third-generation" nerve agents called Novichoks and the former U.S., British, and French nerve agent programs. War of Nerves is based on extensive research with primary sources, including declassified U.S. government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act; archives in the United States, Britain, Germany, and France; and interviews with individuals formerly involved in the U.S., British, and Soviet chemical weapons programs.
The author, Jonathan B. Tucker, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow specializing in chemical and biological weapons in the Washington, D.C. office of the Monterey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). Before joining the CNS staff in March 1996, he served as an arms control specialist with the Department of State, the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, where he worked on preparations for the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention. In February 1995, he was a United Nations biological weapons inspector in Iraq. Dr. Tucker is the author of Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001), which the Washington Post named a "best book" of 2001, and the editor of Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (MIT Press, 2000).
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