Biological agents are not known to have ever been used as part of a modern weapons systems. There is some doubt about their tactical (immediate) effectiveness. However, as a strategic device, as a covert weapon, biological agents are ideally suited. Throughout the history of warfare, disease has been as effective as combat in causing casualties. Recall the plagues that swept Europe during the Middle Ages or. more recently, the influenza outbreaks of 1918, 1958, and 1968. Any epidemic can totally disrupt normal functioning. Imagine being able to cause an epidemic when and where you choose, and you have some idea of the potential military strategic usefulness of biological warfare. The importance of planning and training for defense against chemical and biological agents cannot be overstated.
Chemical and biological (CB) weapons have unique characteristics that distinguish them from conventional or nuclear weapons.
There are differences between chemical and biological weapons that determine their usefulness in a particular situation. In general, chemical weapons are more suited for tactical, short-term local use, while biological weapons have a strategic, long-range goal. Several factors contribute to this.
In any discussion of toxic chemical agents, it is convenient to consider them under several classifications. The broadest classification we will use is based on the general effect produced (i.e., severe casualty, harassment, or incapacitation). Within each general group, there are further breakdowns. The most convenient, from a medical point of view, is the classification by physiologic effect.
Casualty-producing chemical agents include:
Under incapacitants, the psychochemical are the main group. They produce mental confusion and inability to function intelligently.
Harassing agents are also called riot control agents and include: