(2) Manipulation of Land/Water Systems
Possible manipulations of land and its water systems for military or hostile purposes will include: triggering earthquakes, tsunamis (seismic sea waves), landslides, quiescent volcanoes or lakes; destruction of water containments, nuclear plants, oil wells, etc.; and torching land, forest, vegetation, etc.
Most of these phenomena are capable of releasing vast amounts of potential energy with powerful forces and destructive consequence for man and his environment. Some of these have been actually used in the surprise attack arsenal of military forces, while others still remain within the realm of scientific conjectures and military fantasy.
The question has been raised whether earthquakes can be triggered in enemy territory. It has been suggested that this is possible through the action of a nuclear explosion detonated at a depth of 5 kilometers or more, releasing a sticking point, which would cause significant earth tremors. An underwater nuclear explosion at the Continental Shelf might also generate a tsunami.
In a closely related manner, it is quite possible to trigger quiescent volcanoes or lakes for hostile purposes with a nuclear bomb of one-ten kilotons, penetrating a depth of about one hundred meters to spark explosive eruptions of lava or gases as well as a violent injection of dust into the atmosphere. In one spectacular instance, late in the night of August 21, 1986, Lake Nyos, in Northern Cameroun, erupted, boiled at very high temperatures, overflowed its banks, and emitted poisonous gases. It took a disastrous toll on human, animal, and plant life in all the villages through which the ``wind of death'' swept. The deadly gases which included carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulphide, or cyanide gas, killed over eighteen hundred people and almost all the animals in these villages were decimated. Crops were also destroyed. Although the incident was "officially'' ascribed to the natural eruption of toxic gases from Lake Nyos, there is a suggestion in certain quarters that the incident might be connected with nightime covert military testing of some unconventional military weapons, an act which the United Nations has sought to discourage and urged nations to refrain from doing. It has not been possible to confirm this suggestion.
American, Israeli, and French teams of geologists who carried out an on-the-spot survey of the disaster did not rule out the possibility of Lake Nyos erupting again.
The first such disaster occurred in 1984, when Lake Manoum, also in Northern Cameroun, erupted, emitting cyanide gas which killed thirty-seven people. In the northwest region of Cameroun, there are twenty such volcanic lakes capable of emitting these toxic gases.
The environmental damage consequent upon such disasters is always enormous, as demonstrated by the Lake Nyos incident. The "Dead Land'' is a perfect allegory to describe the affected areas in the aftermath of this incident. The once fertile lands in the Camerounian villages of Sobum, Chah, Koshing, and Nyos lay barren and defoliated, with charred remains of burnt crops and carcasses of rotting animals. Survivors of the disaster who were evacuated complained of heartburn, eye lesions, and neurological problems such as monoplegia, a condition that affects one muscle or group of muscles, one limb or one part of the body, and paraplegia, paralysis of the lower part of the body and limbs.
Overt or covert military operations will continue to take advantage of such potentially unstable terrain represented by quiescent volcanoes or lakes. According to scientists, a surface or subsurface burst of a nuclear bomb, perhaps one hundred kilotons, would generate vibrations that would result in considerable regional damage to the environment.
Worldwide, it is estimated that there are perhaps 750 volcanoes classified as being active. They are quiescent most of the time but erupt occasionally at unpredictable times. These are located mostly in the Pacific Ocean basin, the Mediterranean region, and the Mid-Atlantic ridge in Antarctica. They pose a threat to the human environment, particularly because some of these have the potential to alter the weather and climate on a hemispheric and possibly a global scale. Scientists have confirmed that whether or not an eruption is imminent can now be recognized (i.e. monitored) in advance by remote seismic instruments.
The chances are therefore high that military commanders either covertly or overtly could seize advantage of that brief period when a quiescent volcano or lake would be vulnerable to triggering for hostile manipulation. (193).
Anthony D'Amato is a Leighton Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law.
Kirsten Engel is a Professor of Law at the University of Arizona College of Law.
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