North Korea signaling its chemical and biological weapons to the world?

The Malaysian police have declared that Kim Jong-nam was assassinated with VX nerve agent, when two women rubbed his face with the nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

If North Korean citizens were behind the killing, as Malaysian officials suggest, the use of VX raises several questions: Was the North Korean government using the attack to signal to the world its fearsome arsenal of such dangerous weapons? Or was the toxin simply an attempt to avoid detection in carrying out a brazen killing at one of the world’s busiest airports?

One drop of VX, or about 10 milligrams, can be fatal. But the attackers could have used a safety-enhancing battlefield form of the agent. Known as VX2, it is divided into two compounds that are harmless individually but become lethal when mixed together.

If Mr. Kim’s two assassins had each applied one component of VX, this would explain why two people were needed, and how they survived the attack. The woman who applied the second compound would have risked exposing herself to the first component, which could explain why one of the women became ill and began vomiting after the attack.

And as to why it took 15 minutes or more for Mr. Kim to die: Each component could have been made in slow-release form, as is done with many drugs.

Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has two degrees in chemical engineering, said it was clear that North Korea wanted the West to know what it is capable of. “They wanted everyone, especially the U.S., to know it was VX and that they can make it or have it,” he said. “Doing it publicly but not killing anyone else is a pretty good way to reveal that capability and deterrent.”

[The New York Times]

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