VX, the chemical used in the airport murder of Kim Jong Nam, is one of the deadliest chemical weapons created by man. Just 10 milligrams of the nerve agent or a single drop is enough to kill in minutes, experts say.
With the texture and feel of engine oil, VX was first produced in the United Kingdom in the 1950s. It can cause convulsions, loss of consciousness, paralysis and respiratory failure in minutes. Its only known use is as a chemical warfare agent: VX is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations (UN).
“You can think of VX as being a pesticide on steroids, this is an extraordinarily toxic substance,” said Bruce Bennett, a specialist in North East Asian security issues at the California-based RAND Corp. “Roughly 1/100th of a gram, a third of a drop, on someone’s skin, will kill them.” Malaysian police said on Friday that VX was found on the body of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Police said they were investigating whether the VX was brought into the country – and how that was done – or concocted inside the country.
VX and other nerve agents were believed to have been used in chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Sarin gas was used in Syria, killing hundreds in deadly attacks in 2013, while a mix of Sarin and VX was used by members of a Japanese doomsday cult in their deadly 1995 attack on a Tokyo subway.
North Korea is believed to have the world’s third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative project, which analyses weapons of mass destruction. North Korea is one of only six countries in the world that have not signed a global chemical weapons convention that prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.
Pyongyang has denied it has chemical weapons. South Korean defence officials have estimated that Pyongyang has between 2,500 and 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons in stockpiles.
South Korean analysts have identified Sarin and VX as the focus of a North Korean chemical weapons program. But VX is known to be much more potent than Sarin and other nerve agents because of its persistency. Sarin evaporates from the skin surface but VX does not. The chemical is hard to produce but a few countries are known to make it and remain in possession of it. The United States and Russia still have some VX stockpiles.