What are chemical weapons?
- “The term chemical weapon is applied to any toxic chemical or its precursor that can cause death, injury, temporary incapacitation or sensory irritation through its chemical action.”
- Chemical weapons are classified according to how they affect human beings:
1. Choking agents like chlorine gas make breathing difficult.
2. Blister agents like mustard gas can cause severe skin and eye irritation.
3. Arsenic- or cyanide-based blood agents are often fast-acting and lethal.
4. Nerve agents like sarin or VX disrupt the nervous system.
There are also plenty of gray areas:
- Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, riot-control agents such as tear gas are considered chemical weapons if they’re used during war — but not if they’re used for law enforcement.
- And there are all sorts of technicalities over the use of white phosphorus, an incendiary weapon that has been used in recent years by both the United States and Israel.
Why are chemical weapons considered worse than other types of weapons?
- The taboo against chemical weapons is more than a century old.
- “The primary idea is that they are indiscriminate and an inherent threat to civilian populations,”
- “The kernel of that really arose in the aftermath of World War I.
- Chemical weapons were used on a wide scale in that conflict.
- There was a real fear, particularly as air technology got better, that there’d be massive chemical attacks on cities.”
- Now, granted, regular bombs can be deadly and indiscriminate too.
- But for a variety of historical reasons, a set of international norms developed around chemical weapons that never developed around conventional explosives.
- By World War II, most countries had voluntarily ruled out the use of chemical warfare on the battlefield.
Are chemical weapons banned under international law?
- The 1925 Geneva protocol first prohibited the use of poisonous gas as a weapon of war.
- The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention then went even further and outlawed the production, stockpile, transfer and use of chemical weapons.
- Countries that ratified the treaty pledged to destroy their existing stockpiles.
Not everyone has signed that 1993 treaty, however. Syria, North Korea, Egypt and Angola are notable omissions. Israel and Burma, meanwhile, have signed the treaty but not ratified it:
Which countries currently possess chemical weapons?
- At least five countries still have officially declared stockpiles: The United States, Russia, Libya, Iraq, and Japan (the latter’s weapons were left in China after World War II).
- These nations have all pledged to destroy their remaining stocks, but progress has been slow: As of July 2013, there are still more than 13,000 tons of chemical agents left.
That’s not all, though. The U.S. intelligence community believes that Syria, Iran, and North Korea all have their own covert chemical arsenals. Syria, in particular, “maintains a stockpile of numerous chemical agents, including mustard, sarin, and VX.”
- There are also a number of other countries that may have chemical weapons or the facilities for producing them, but public information is murky.
- The list of possible suspects includes: Burma, Egypt, Pakistan, Serbia, Sudan, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Which countries have used chemical weapons?
- During the Yemen civil war of 1963-1967, Egypt used mustard gas, phosgene, and tear gas against royalist forces.
- And in 1987, Libya allegedly used chemical weapons against Chadian troops.
- The most notorious recent incidents have come in Iraq.
- Saddam Hussein used various gases on a wide scale in his war against Iran and then later in his campaign against Iraq’s Kurds in the late 1980s.
- His general in that effort, Ali Hassan al-Majid, was given the nickname “Chemical Ali”.
Did Iraq get punished for using chemical weapons?
- After the Iran-Iraq war, there was no response. All the U.N. could muster was a weakly worded condemnation of chemical weapons that didn’t name names. And the U.S. was in no rush to see Iraq punished, as they didn’t want to see Iran win.
- Later on, however, the U.N. Security Council did pass a number of resolutions to disarm Saddam Hussein. And, in 1998, the U.S. launched Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign intended to “degrade” Iraq’s weapons capabilities — chemical, biological, and nuclear — after Hussein kicked out U.N. inspectors.
Focus ---- >>> SYRIA
- The Syrian government is thought to possess large stocks of nerve agents (sarin and VX)as well as mustard gas, likely weaponized into bombs, shells and missiles.
- It also may have some production facilities.
- Syria “probably” first began stockpiling chemical weapons in 1972 or 1973, when Egypt gave the country a small number of chemicals and delivery systems before the Yom Kippur War against Israel.
- The Soviet Union later supplied chemical agents, delivery systems and training. Syria is also “likely to have procured equipment and precursor chemicals from private companies in Western Europe.”
- According to the report, Syria doesn’t yet appear to have the capacity to produce the weapons entirely on its own, relying on outside help for precursors.