What about the civilians?

Research into protecting the military against chemical and biological attacks is important, but is enough being done for the rest of us?


The developments underway to protect against chemical and biological attack are interesting, but do not give me huge hope that I, as a civilian, am going to be better protected from these threats in the future.


Much of the work done by engineers and scientists is focused on protecting soldiers in battle. I suppose this is understandable, because the received wisdom is that as those going into combat situations they will be the ones bombarded with nerve agents.


Recent history, however, suggests that it will not be military personnel but the rest of us who are most at risk from attacks of this kind.


There are fewer and fewer big set-piece battles involving soldiers from the west, and those that have taken place recently did not involve chemical warfare. There was a lot of concern before the invasion of Iraq, for example, but the threat did not materialise.


If an army is known to have such weapons it is usually possible for opposing forces to use surveillance and then air power to ‘neutralise’ the threat, and it does seem that this happened during the last two expeditions to the Gulf.


By contrast we know for certain that terrorist groups are actively looking into the use of chemical warfare against civilians, who present a much softer target.


Protecting the mass of the population is, to my mind, virtually impossible, but I wonder if work is being done on the type of small, mass-produceable sensor that could at least warn people of any danger and give them a chance to react in time.


Decontaminating the area afterwards is important, but will be of little comfort to those caught in an attack.


I am not suggesting that research into protecting the military is not important or should be downgraded, but is enough being done for the rest of us? Or do we just have to cross our fingers and hope the police catch terrorists using chemical and biological weapons before they have a chance to release the stuff?


Simon Jones


London N11