By Karl Dewey, CBRN Analyst, Jane’s
VX is a nerve agent – Nerve agents are amongst the most toxic of the known chemical agents and work by disrupting the body’s nervous system.
VX belongs to V-series of agents (classified as persistent i.e. they linger on the battlefield). All nerve agents can all kill with extremely small doses, depending on the purity, just a drop on the skin would likely be enough to kill.
How easy it is to make?
VX is technically challenging and requires considerable kit to make. Even state actors have had trouble, for example the Iraqi program sought VX but it was considered too poor-a quality for weaponization.
There have been examples of it being made by non-state actors manufacturing nerve agent – for example Aum Shinrikyo is credited with having synthesized Sarin and small amounts of VX but non-state actors are the exception rather than the rule.
(Learn More about the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam by a VX nerve agent. Courtesy of CNN and YouTube)
Who has VX?
North Korea is one of the few countries that still has chemical weapons and VX is commonly listed as one of these agents.
It appears that this may be the first concrete demonstration of its capability to produce it, but there are still many questions remaining including volumes of production and how the North envisions its use.
(Learn More, courtesy of The Star Online and YouTube)
There are plenty of other lethal chemicals that could be used, for example, ricin has been used for assassinations in the past.
Pyongyang has made much of its nuclear deterrence recently but many question if it could credibly use them in the escalatory manner it says it will.
Chemical weapons have long been regarded as a means of bridging the ‘credibility gap’ between conventional actions and a full strategic attack, and to the international community the apparent VX attack seems to be a timely reminder of the North’s full range of capabilities; while to defectors a reminder of what may happen even after one leaves.
About the Author
Karl Dewey, is a Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear (CBRN) analyst at Jane’s, and an expert in chemical weapons.