What is a Nerve Agent?
I would imagine that this question has been typed into Google a record number of times within the past week or two as news emerged that former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter were poisoned in Salisbury via military-grade nerve agent. The two victims were found together, unconscious on a park bench after being exposed to the deadly toxin. The question on everybody's lips: what is a nerve agent and how dangerous are they?
A nerve agent is a class of organic chemicals that disrupt the body's nervous system. They aim to prevent the transmission of nerve impulses to different organs in the body, which can lead to them shutting down and becoming non-functional. Once poisoned by a nerve agent, the body will show certain signs. These include: contraction of pupils, heavy salivation, convulsions and involuntary defecation and urination. The first symptoms of nerve agent exposure can occur within seconds of the incident taking place, meaning that these organic chemicals are extremely fast acting. Death due to asphyxiation or cardiac arrest can happen in minutes after the body loses control of respiratory functions and other important muscles.
BBC Radio 2 Speculation
Listeners of Jeremy Vine's show on BBC Radio 2 will know that he often discusses relevant news stories with his phone-in guests. In a recent edition of his radio show, Vine was discussing a theory surrounding the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, stating that it was suggested that the nerve agent was applied to the door handle of Sergei Skripal's home and this was how it was administered to him and his daughter.
Lots of guests gave their view on the matter, more often than not disagreeing with this theory. The majority of them couldn't comprehend how this sequence of events would have unfolded if they did in fact come into contact with the nerve agent by touching the door handle of their home. It was pointed out that the nerve agent would have been a liquid, which would make it highly likely that Skripal and/or his daughter would have noticed when it came into contact with their skin. This idea caused listeners to disagree with the theory because they believed that if they were in the same position, they would have immediately washed the liquid from their hands and wouldn't have allowed their daughter to touch the substance before it was removed from the door handle.
I have to say that I totally agree with them, but not for the same reason. It was also mentioned that a hitman-type killer, who would have been sent to carry out the nerve agent attack, wouldn't have left the administration of the substance down to such chance and variable.
Now, this is where the nerve agent attack gets very interesting!
Precision, Precision and More Precision
As mentioned above, this attack wouldn't have been carried out by any old Joe Bloggs. The perpetrator will be someone who is highly-trained and experienced in this area of work. This is why it would be hard for me to believe that the nerve agent was simply left on a door handle in the hope that Skripal, and anyone associated with him, would come into contact with it.
Firstly, the person who coated the door handle in the nerve agent would have had to have been dressed head-to-toe in a hazmat suit, which would have seemed very suspicious to Skirpal's neighbours. If the incident had taken place in this manner, I'm sure that the British authorities would have been notified.
Secondly, the door handle theory leaves other persons susceptible to the cross-fire (so to speak). The perpetrator would not have known for certain that Skirpal, or his daughter for that matter, would be the next person to place their hand on the door handle.
Thirdly, both victims were found unconscious in the same location, at the same time. I cannot believe that this is purely coincidence. This evidence suggests, to me, that the perpetrator administered very precise amounts of the nerve agent to each victim, which meant that they would both experience the damning effects of the poison at similar times. The correspondence of their unconsciousness would make sense, as it would prevent either victim from realising an issue and signalling help, extending the chances that both Skirpal and his daughter would die from their exposure.
Responding to the Nerve Agent Attack
Although the UK does not hold concrete evidence, the blame for the nerve agent attack falls on Russia. However, some speculate that a number of other countries could be behind the attack, hoping that the blame is then pinned on Russia. Without support for any of the allegations, it is currently difficult to pin the attack to one nation but as the story unravels, the answer will be revealed.
Following the attack, Theresa May made it clear in a public statement that she would sanction Russia with some form of retaliation. At the time, I couldn't think of anything that the UK could do that would oppose Russia but not begin a war. The answer was the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the UK, which incited other nations to follow suit. A growing list of countries has now sent home Russian diplomats residing within their borders, with the US removing the highest number (believed to be around 60).
Whilst this seems like a reasonable response to the incident, it also doesn't bode well for future relations between the UK and Russia. Jeremy Corbyn recently stated that he believes that the UK shouldn't compromise its relationship with Russia as it could come back to haunt us in the future. I don't often agree with Corbyn, but I think he is right in this scenario. The UK shouldn't let the nerve agent attack go unopposed, but I feel as though they shouldn't blow this out of proportion. If Russia had aimed to affect the general population of Salisbury instead of the two victims, I could see a need to strongly condemn their actions. In this situation, discussion could have been a better solution, especially with the controversy currently surrounding Russia as a nation.
All that we can hope for now is a lack of escalation. Maintaining an alliance with Russia should be important to the UK as they are such a vast nation, with the potential to be a powerful force. I am eagerly awaiting Theresa May's next move.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.