Dirty Bombs: Not Just for Terrorists

William C. Potter
Jeffrey Lewis
February 17, 2013

North Korea Nuclear/RadiologicalAfter North Korea included a truck full of guys with backpacks decorated with radioactivity symbols, Bill Potter wondered whether they might not be dirty bombs which are normally associated with terrorists. We started looking into the history of state interest in radiological weapons, finding a forgotten history of state interest in radiological weapons. General Douglas MacArthur proposed using radioactive sources to hamper Chinese supply lines into Korea. The Soviets developed not one but two radiological warheads for the R2 missile.  Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear scientists to develop dirty bombs to stop Iranian human wave attacks. Our review of this forgotten history is available at Foreign Policy in an article titled “Cheap and Dirty Bombs: Could these creepy chest packs be North Korea’s way of threatening radiological war?

We also discovered a forgotten history of arms control efforts. The United States and Soviet Union actually negotiated a draft treaty banning radiological warfare in the late 1970s, but the treaty text died in the Conference on Disarmament. Perhaps the most interesting find was an occasional paper of the Stanley Foundation with essays by an American and Soviet diplomat entitled Radiological Weapons Control: A Soviet and US Perspective. This paper is now available for the first time online. We’re not sure the CD is the right place to address radiological warfare, but we have more hope about the new P5 process. As we write “Some P5 states have expressed interest in adding new topics to the agenda ahead of the 2015 NPT Review Conference. Radiological warfare would be a useful addition. Members are likely to share relatively similar views. Moreover, radiological warfare already may have received some attention in the Chinese-led working group dealing with the development of a common nuclear glossary. … Engaging China and the other nuclear weapon states on this issue may turn out to be useful if it should happen that those enigmatic packs in Pyongyang are indeed filled with more than rags.”

Comments Are Closed