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Chemical weapon

A chemical weapon (CW)[1] is a device that uses chemicals formulated to inflict death or harm to human beings. They are classified as weapons of mass destruction, and have been "condemned by the civilised world". CW have been used in past conflicts and preparedness doctrine anticipates the potential for future use. Numerous international agreements are in force with regard to chemical weapons.

Lethal unitary chemical agents and munitions are extremely volatile and constitute a class of hazardous chemical weapons stockpiled by many nations. The most dangerous of these are nerve agents GA, GB, and VX, and vesicant (blister) agents H, HT, and HD. All are in liquid form at normal room temperature. Public opinion has moved to endorse the complete elimination of this class, and progress is being made to fulfill its eradication through international law.


International law

"International law is the term commonly used for referring to laws that govern the conduct of independent nations in their relationships with one another."[2] They are generally regarded as binding, and State Parties accept the terms. Treaties like the Geneva Conventions requires nations assent to the terms, which often requires acts of national legislation to conform. Nations may delegate their national jurisdiction to a supranational tribunal such as the European Court of Human Rights or the International Criminal Court.

The Hague Conventions

The Hague Conventions were two international treaties negotiated at international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands: The First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907. Along with the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions were among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the body of secular international law. A third conference was planned for 1914 and later rescheduled for 1915, but never took place due to the start of World War I.

Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles (French: le Trait de Versailles) was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I were dealt with in separate treaties.

Geneva Protocol

The Geneva Protocol, officially known as the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, is an International treaty prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons. It was signed at Geneva June 17, 1925 and entered into force on February 8, 1928. 133 nations are listed as state parties[3] to the treaty Ukraine acceded August 7, 2003 and is the most recent member nation.[4] This treaty states that chemical and biological weapons are "justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilised world." While the treaty prohibits the use of chemical, and biological weapons, it does not address the production, storage, or transfer of these weapons. Later treaties would address these omissions and have been enacted.

Washington Naval Treaty

The Washington Naval Treaty, signed February 6, 1922, also known as the Five-Power Treaty, aimed at banning CW but did not succeed because the French rejected it. The subsequent failure to include CW has contributed to the resultant increase in stockpiles.[5]

Chemical Weapons Convention

States parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Light colored territories are those states parties that have declared stockpiles of chemical weapons and/or have known production facilities for chemical weapons.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is the most recent arms control agreement with the force of International law. Its full name is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction. This agreement outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. It is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an independent organization based in The Hague.[6]


The OPCW administers the terms of the CWC to 188 signatories which represents 98% of the global population. Of the stockpiles, 44,131 of the 71,194 tonnes declared (61.99%) have been destroyed. The OPCW has conducted 4,167 inspections at 195 chemical weapon-related and 1,103 industrial sites. These inspections have affected the sovereign territory of 81 States Parties since April 1997. Worldwide, 4,913 industrial facilities are subject to inspection provisions.[7]

Use of chemical weapons

A British gas bomb that was used during World War I.

"Chemical warfare (CW) involves using the toxic properties of chemical substances as weapons. This type of warfare is distinct from Nuclear warfare and Biological warfare, which together make up NBC, the military acronym for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (warfare or weapons). Neither of these falls under the term conventional weapons which are primarily effective due to their destructive potential. Chemical warfare does not depend upon explosive force to achieve an objective. Rather it depends upon the unique properties of the chemical agent weaponized. A lethal agent is designed to injure or incapacitate the enemy, or deny unhindered use of a particular area of terrain. Defoliants are used to quickly kill vegetation and deny its use for cover and concealment. It can also be used against agriculture and livestock to promote hunger and starvation. With proper protective equipment, training, and decontamination measures, the primary effects of chemical weapons can be overcome."[8]

State parties with declared stockpiles

Of 188 signatory nations to the CWC, state parties listed below have also declared stockpiles, agreed to monitored disposal, and verification, and in some cases, used CW in conflict. Both military targets and civilian populations have been affected the affected populations were not always damaged collaterally, but rather at times, the target of the attack. As of 2012, only four nations are confirmed as having chemical weapons: the United States, Russia, North Korea and Syria.[9]


Japan stored chemical weapons on the territory of mainland China between 1937 and 1945. The weapons mostly contained a mustard gas-lewisite mixture.[10] The weapons are classified as abandoned chemical weapons under the CWC and Japan has started their destruction in September 2010 in Nanjing using mobile destruction facilities.[11]


India declared its stock of chemical weapons in June 1997. India's declaration came after the entry into force of the CWC that created the OPCW. India declared a stockpile of 1044 tonnes of sulphur mustard at its possession. [12][13] On Jan 14, 1993 India became an original signatory to the CWC. By 2005, from among the six nations that had declared possession of chemical weapons, India was the only one to meet its deadline for chemical weapons destruction and for inspection of its facilities by the OPCW. By the end of 2006, India had destroyed more than 75 percent of its chemical weapons/material stockpile and was granted extension for destroying (the remaining stocks by April 2009) and was expected to achieve 100 percent destruction within that time frame.[13] On May 14 2009, India had informed the United Nations that it has destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons.[14]


The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which oversees destruction measures has announced "The government of Iraq has deposited its instrument of accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention with the Secretary General of the United Nations and within 30 days, on 12 February 2009, will become the 186th State Party to the Convention".[15][16] Iraq has also declared stockpiles of CW, and because of their recent accession is the only State Party exempted from the destruction time-line.[17] On September 7, 2011 Mr. Hoshyar Zebari entered the OPCW headquarters, becoming the first Iraqi Foreign Minister to officially visit since the country joined the CWC.[18]

Attack on Sardasht

On June 28, 1987, Iraqi aircraft delivered what was believed to be mustard gas in an attack against the Iranian city of Sardasht. On two separate attacks against four residential areas, victims were estimated as 10 civilians dead and 650 civilians injured.[19]

North Korea

The country is believed to possess a substantial arsenal of chemical weapons. It reportedly acquired the technology necessary to produce tabun and mustard gas as early as the 1950s.[20]


Libya has used Chemical weapons under Muammar Gaddafi's regime in a war with Chad, a neighboring country. In 2003 Gaddafi agreed to ascend to the convention in exchange for "rapprochement" with western nations. At the time of the Libyan uprising against Gaddafi, Libya still controlled approximately 11.25 tons of poisonous mustard gas. Because of destabilization, concerns have increased regarding possibilities and likelihood that control of these agents could be lost. With terrorism as a core concern,[21] international bodies are seeking to ensure Libya is held to its obligations under the treaty.[22] Libya's post-Gaddafi National Transitional Council is cooperating with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons regarding the destruction of all legacy chemical weapons in the country.[23] After assessing the chemical stockpiles the Libyan government will receive a deadline from the OPCW to destroy the weapons.[24]


220px 220px Russia entered the CWC with the largest declared stockpile of chemical weapons.[25] By 2010 the country had destroyed 18,241 tonnes at destruction facilities located in Gorny (Saratov Oblast) and Kambarka (Udmurt Republic) where operations have finished and Shchuchye (Kurgan Oblast), Maradykovsky (Kirov Oblast), Leonidovka (Penza Oblast) while installations are under construction in Pochep (Bryansk Oblast) and Kizner (Udmurt Republic).[26]


Syria reportedly manufactures Sarin, Tabun, VX, and mustard gas types of chemical weapons.[27]

Syria is one of only 7 nations which is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

While Syria has not publicly admitted to its chemical weapons program, Syrian officials have stated that they feel it appropriate to have some deterrent against Israel's similarly non-admitted nuclear weapons program when questioned about the topic.

Independent assessments indicate that Syrian production could be up to a combined total of a few hundred tons of chemical agent per year.


Syrian chemical weapons production facilities have been identified by Western nonproliferation experts at approximately 5 sites, plus one suspected weapons base:[28]

  • Al Safir (Scud missile base)
  • Cerin
  • Hama
  • Homs
  • Latakia
  • Palmyra

2007 explosion

In July 2007, a Syrian arms depot exploded, killing at least 15 Syrians. Jane's Defence Weekly, a U.S. magazine reporting on military and corporate affairs, believed that the explosion happened when Iranian and Syrian military personnel attempted to fit a Scud missile with a mustard gas warhead. Syria stated that the blast was accidental and not chemical related.[29]

United States

Stockpile/disposal site locations for the United States' chemical weapons and the sites operating status as of August 28, 2008.

The U.S. stored its chemical weapons at eight U.S. Army installations within the Continental United States (CONUS). The stockpiles were maintained in exclusion zones[30] at the following Department of Army installations (the percentages shown are reflections of amount by weight): Tooele Army Depot (TEAD), Utah (42.3% of total stockpile); Pine Bluff Arsenal (PBA), Arkansas (12%); Umatilla Depot Activity (UMDA), Oregon (11.6%); Pueblo Depot Activity (PUDA), Colorado (9.9%); Anniston Army Depot (ANAD), Alabama (7.1%); Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland (5%); Newport Army Ammunition Plant (NAAP), Indiana (3.9%); and Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD), Kentucky (1.6%). The remaining 6.6% was located on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

Currently stockpiles have been eliminated at Johnston Atoll, APG, and NAAP. Stockpiles are nearly eliminated at ANAD, UMDA,[31] PBA, and TEAD with completion scheduled for fiscal year (FY) 2012.[32] PUDA will begin elimination during FY 2015, and complete in FY 2017.[33] BGAD will be last to complete this elimination which tentative dates have not been set.[34]

U.S. policy on use

The U.S. policy on the use of chemical weapons is to reserve the right to retaliate. First use, or preemptive use, is a violation of stated policy. Only the president of the United States can authorize the first retaliatory use.[35] Official policy now reflects the likelihood of chemical weapons being used as a terrorist weapon.[36]

Manner and form

There are three basic configurations in which these agents are stored. Self-contained munitions like projectiles, cartridges, mines, and rockets. These can contain propellant and/or explosive components. The next form are aircraft-delivered munitions. This form never has an explosive component.[30] Together they comprise the two forms which have been weaponized and are ready for their intended use. The U.S. stockpile consisted of 39% of these weapon ready munitions. The final of the three forms are raw agent housed in one-ton containers. The remaining 61%[30] of the stockpile was in this form.[37] Whereas these chemicals exist in liquid form at normal room temperature,[30][38] the sulfur mustards H, and HD freeze in temperatures below . Mixing lewisite with distilled mustard lowers the freezing point to .[35]

Higher temperatures are a bigger concern because the possibility of an explosion increases as the temperatures rise. A fire at one of these facilities would endanger the surrounding community as well as the personnel at the installations.[39] Perhaps more so for the community having much less access to protective equipment and specialized training.[40] The Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted a study to assess capabilities and costs for protecting civilian populations during related emergencies,[41] and the effectiveness of expedient, in-place shelters.[42]

Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System prior to demolition.


United States

U.S. soldiers wearing full chemical protection.

An Australian observer who has moved into a gas-affected target area to record results, examines an un-exploded shell.

The stockpiles, which have been maintained for more than 50 years,[5] are now considered obsolete.[43] Public Law 99-145, contains section 1412 which directs the Department of Defense (DOD) to dispose of the stockpiles. This directive fell upon the DOD with joint cooperation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).[30] The Congressional directive has resulted in the present Chemical Stockpile Disposal Program.

Some places where chemical weapons were tested, such as the San Jose Project in Panama, were not included in the disposal program. Thousands of mines on the island are still full of chemical gas and can be set off by passersby.

Historically, chemical munitions have been disposed of by land burial, open burning, and ocean dumping (referred to as Operation CHASE).[44] However in 1969, the National Research Council (NRC) recommended that ocean dumping be discontinued. The Army then began a study of disposal technologies, including the assessment of incineration as well as chemical neutralization methods. In 1982, that study culminated in the selection of incineration technology, which is now incorporated into what is known as the baseline system. Construction of the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS) began in 1985.

This was to be a full-scale prototype facility using the baseline system. The prototype was a success but there were still many concerns about CONUS operations. To address growing public concern over incineration, Congress, in 1992, directed the Army to evaluate alternative disposal approaches that might be "significantly safer", more cost effective, and which could be completed within the established time frame. The Army was directed to report to Congress on potential alternative technologies by the end of 1993, and to include in that report "any recommendations that the National Academy of Sciences makes...".[37] In June 2007 the disposal program achieved a milestone reaching 45% destruction of the chemical weapon stockpile.[45] The Chemical Materials Agency (CMA) releases regular updates to the public regarding the status of the disposal program.[46] By October 2010, the program had reached 80% destruction status.[47]


protection mask]] (skyddsmask 90).

Chemical weapons are said to "make deliberate use of the toxic properties of chemical substances to inflict death".[48] At the start of World War II it was reported in newspapers that "entire regions of Europe" would be turned into "lifeless wastelands".[49] However, chemical weapons were not used to the extent feared. An unintended chemical weapon release occurred at the port of Bari. A German attack on the evening of December 2, 1943, damaged U.S. vessels in the harbour and the resultant release of mustard gas inflicted a total of 628 casualties.[50][51][52]

A Syrian soldier aims an AK-47 assault rifle wearing a Soviet-made, model ShMS nuclear biological chemical warfare mask.

The U.S. Government was highly criticized for exposing American service members to chemical agents while testing the effects of exposure. These tests were often performed without the consent or prior knowledge of the soldiers affected.[53] Many Australian service personnel were also exposed as a result of the "Brook Island trials"[54] carried out by the British Government to determine the likely consequences of chemical attack in tropical conditions, about which little was then known. Some chemical agents are designed to produce mind altering changes rendering the victim unable to perform their assigned mission. These are classified as incapacitating agents and lethality is not a factor of their effectiveness.[55]


Unitary munitions are opposite of binary munitions which contain two, unmixed and isolated non-lethal chemicals. These do not react to produce lethal effects until mixed, usually just prior to battlefield use. In contrast, unitary weapons are lethal chemical munitions which produce a toxic result in their existing state.[56] The majority of the chemical stockpile is unitary and most of it is stored in one-ton bulk containers.[57][58]

See also

  • 1990 Chemical Weapons Accord
  • General Purpose Criterion
  • List of chemical warfare agents



External links

Canada specific

US specific

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