North Korea Gives Syria Gas

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2002

The World Tribune recently reported that North Korea is helping Syria develop VX nerve gas warheads for its Scud-C ballistic missiles. US defense sources are quoted as saying that this project could be completed by the end of 2002. Syria reportedly already has the capability to deliver Sarin gas with its Scud-B. In tests first detected in 1998, Syria was working to develop the technology for proper dispersion of a gas agent once delivered by a ballistic missile. The latest tests involve the Scud-C, although a VX warhead has also been tested aboard the Scud-B. The Scud-C extends to 300 miles the 180-mile payload range of the Scud-B.

Sarin -- already successfully deployed with Syrian missiles -- is a colorless and odorless gas that is 26 times more deadly than cyanide gas. VX -- O-ethyl S-(2-diisopropylaminoethyl) methylphosphonothioate -- was first synthesized by the British in 1954 and is even worse news. VX is a persistent nerve agent that inactivates the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) in humans and other mammals. VX acts on people like "bug spray" does on insects -- fast, nasty, essentially 100% lethal. Nerve agents are particularly useful in desert and other open, isolated locations, where they can be dropped on enemy troops without overly endangering nearby "friendlies" (not that that's a big problem for Syria).

While North Korea is believed to have supplied Syria with both technology and equipment for the VX program, Syria is believed to have subsequently closed its program to all foreigners.