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Old Saturday, September 05, 2009
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Default Chemical Weapons !

Chemical weapons are certainly not the same as conventional weapons since they deal with the use of toxic characteristics of certain chemical materials and are not as concerned about exploding things as is the case with conventional weapons. The aim of using chemical weapons is to destroy the enemy physically and also physiologically. In addition, it would be wrong to think about chemical weapons as a modern manmade invention because it has in fact been used from antiquity as well, though today’s such weapons are far more lethal than anything known to man till date.

In fact, World War I certainly saw extensive use of chemical weapons and it even had a decided influence on the outcome of many battles, and in the process many casualties were inflicted on the opposing armies. That is why the Geneva Protocol made it unlawful to use chemical weapons in war and this Protocol was signed by almost every country in the year 1925.

However, the use of chemical weapons has not been abolished because countries such as Italy have used them in wars in Ethiopia while the Japanese also used them against the Manchurians and also the Chinese despite having signed the Geneva Convention. Nevertheless, the Allies foreswore from deliberately using such weapons during the Second World War despite owning vast amounts of chemical weapons.

Also, the chemicals used in the making of chemical weapons has also undergone many changes from the time of the First World War at which time the chemicals used consisted mainly of simple materials that were nothing worse than chemicals used in industrial use and those that were derived from such chemicals and these weapons were termed as classic chemical weapons.

Of course, in more recent times, things such as mustard and phosgene as well as other agents have been used in making chemical weapons, and this was especially the case during the Second World War though thankfully such weapons were not used despite being amassed in huge quantities. There are also nerve gases used in chemical weapons whose action is much like that of pesticides and thus they are very lethal as well.
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What are chemical weapons?

About 70 different chemicals have been used or stockpiled as Chemical Weapons (CW) agents during the 20th century. These chemicals are in liquid, gas or solid form and blister, choke and affect the nerves or blood. Chemical warfare agents are generally classified according to their effect on the organism and can be roughly grouped as: Nerve Agents, Mustard Agents, Hydrogen Cyanide, Tear Gases, Arsines, Psychotomimetic Agents, Toxins and Potential CW Agents.

Under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) chemicals are divided into three groups, defining their purpose and treatment:

* Schedule One are those typically used in weapons such as sarin and mustard gas and tabun;

* Schedule Two include those that can be used in weapons such as amiton and BZ;

* Schedule Three chemicals include the least toxic substances that can be used for research and the production of medicine, dyes, textiles, etc.

CW agents mainly used against people are divided into lethal and incapacitating categories. A substance is classified as incapacitating if less than 1/100 of the lethal dose causes incapacitation, e.g., through nausea or visual problems. The limit between lethal and incapacitating substances is not absolute but refers to a statistical average.

Incendiary agents such as napalm and phosphorus are not considered to be CW agents since they achieve their effect mainly through thermal energy. Certain types of smoke ammunition are not classed as a chemical weapon since the poisonous effect is not the reason for their use. Plants, micro-organisms, the produced toxins belong to that class. Pathogenic micro-organisms, mainly viruses and bacteria, are classed as biological weapons.

* Chemicals that blister: sulphur mustard, lewisite, nitrogen mustard, mustard-leweisite, phosgene-oxime.

* Chemicals that affect the nerves: VX, Sarin, Soman, tabun, novichole agents.

* Chemicals that cause choking: cholrine, phosgene, diphosgene, chloropicrin.

* Chemicals that affect the blood: herygem, cynanide, cynaogen chlorine.

* Chemicals for riot control: tear agent 2 (SN gas), tear agent 0 (CS gas), psychedelic agent 3 (BZ)

Two examples:

* Mustard is an oily liquid with a garlic-like smell. Mustard gas was first used as a chemical-warfare agent during WWI, when it war responsible for about 70% of the million-plus gas casualties. Both in vapour and in liquid form its effect is to burn any body-tissue which it touches. Taken into the body, it can act as a systemic poison-- deadlier, weight for weight than hydrogen cyanide. Its burning effects are not normally apparent for some hours after exposure, whereupon they build up into the hideous picture of blindness, blistering and lung damage. Its most prominent use after that war was by Italy in Ethiopia during 1936. During WWII it was produced by Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, the USA and the USSR. It was the CW agent that was stockpiled in by far the largest quantity on the order of hundreds of thousands of tons overall but used only by Japan in China. It is probably still the most heavily stockpiled CW agent today. Its last established use appears to have been by Egypt intervening in the (North) Yemeni civil war of the mid-1960s.

* Tabun, or ethyl NN-dimethylphosphoramidocyanidate, otherwise known as GA, is a liquid that evaporates only half as fast as mustard gas, but is a powerful poison. Even short exposure to small concentrations of its vapour can result in almost immediate symptoms, felt first in the chest (as a persistent contraction of the pupil) and chest (as a tightness or asthma-like constriction). If a lethal dosage has been induced, either from inhalation of the vapour or be absorption of the liquid through the skin, a characteristic sequence of toxic manifestations ensues, some of great violence, including running nose, sweating, involuntary urination and defecation, vomiting, twitching, convulsions, paralysis and unconscious.

2. Some instances of use of Chemical Weapons:

* 429 B.C.- Spartans ignite pitch and sulphur to create toxic fumes in the Peloponnesian War.

* 424 B.C.- Toxic fumes used in siege of Delium during the Peloponnesian War.

* 1456- City of Belgrade defeats invading Turks by igniting rags dipped in poison to create a toxic cloud.

* April 24, 1863- The US War Department issues General Order 100, proclaiming "the use of poison in any manner, be it to poison wells, or foods, or arms, is wholly excluded from modern warfare".

* World War I - the use of chemical agents in WWI caused an estimated 1,300,000 casualties, including 90,000 deaths.

* 1914- French begin using tear gas in grenades and Germans retaliate with tear gas in artillery shells. This was the first significant use of chemical warfare in WWI.

* April 22, 1915- Germans attack the French with chlorine gas at Ypres, France. This was the first significant use of chemical warfare in WWI.

* September 25, 1915 - First British chemical weapons attack; chlorine gas is used against Germans at the Battle of Loos.

* February 26, 1918 - Germans launch the first projectile attack against US troops with phosgene and chloropicrin shells. The first major use of gas against American forces.

* June 1918 - Fist US use of gas in warfare.

* June 28, 1918 - The US begins its formal chemical weapons program with the establishment of the Chemical Warfare Service.

* 1919 - British use Adamsite against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.

* 1922-1927 - The Spanish use chemical weapons against the Rif rebels in Spanish Morocco.

* 1936 - Italy uses mustard gas against Ethiopians during its invasion of Abyssinia.

* 1942 - Nazis begin using Zyklon B (hydrocyanic acid) in gas chambers for the mass murder of concentration camp prisoners.

* Dec 1943 - A US ship loaded with mustard bombs s attacked by Germans in the port of Bari, Italy; 83 US troops die in poisoned waters.

* April 1945 - Germans manufacture and stockpile large amounts of tabun and sarin nerve gases but do not use them.

* 1962-1970 - US uses treat gas and four types of defoliant, including Agent Orange, in Vietnam.

* 1963-1967 - Egypt uses chemical weapons (phosgene, mustard) against Yemen.

* 1975-1983 - Alleged use of Yellow Rain (trichothecene mycotoxins) by Soviet-backed forces in Laos and Kampuchea. There is evidence to suggest use of T-2 toxin, but an alternative hypothesis suggests that the yellow spots labelled Yellow Rain were caused by swarms of defecating bees.

* 1979 - The US government alleges Soviets use of chemical weapons in Afghanistan, including Yellow Rain.

* August, 1983 - Iraq begins using chemical weapons (mustard gas), Iran-Iraq War.

* 1984 - First ever use of nerve agent tabun on the battlefield, by Iraq during Iran-Iraq War.

* 1987-1988 - Iraq uses chemical weapons (hydrogen cyanide, mustard gas) in its Anfal Campaign against the Kurds, most notably in the Halabja Massacre of 1988.

* March 20, 1995 - The Tokyo Subway sarin gas attack killed nearly a dozen people and incapacitating or injuring approximately 5,000 others. Thousands did not die from the Tokyo attack due to impure of the agent. A tiny drop of sarin, which was originally developed in Germany in the 1930s, can kill within minutes after skin contact or inhalation of its vapour. Like all other nerve agents, sarin blocks the action of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses.

3. What is the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)?

The experience of large-scale chemical warfare was so horrifying that it led to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which forbids the use of chemical and bacteriological agents in war. Images of victims gasping, frothing and choking to death had a profound impact. The text of the protocol reflects the global sense of abhorrence. It affirmed that these weapons had been "justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world."

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) reinforces aspects of the Geneva Conventions that also dealt with these agents and was negotiated over a period of 24 years. In 1992, after a decade of long and painstaking negotiations, the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva agreed to the text of the (CWC), which was adopted by the General Assembly on 30 November 1992, in its resolution entitled Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (A/RES/47/39).

More than 170 countries have signed the CWC, and 139 have ratified it. The treaty entered into force on April 29, 1997, 180 days after Hungary, the 65th country, ratified. Countries that ratify must destroy all chemical weapons over a ten year period with the treaty providing a "levelling out principle" that ensures possessors destroy their stockpiles at roughly the same time.

Five years after entry into force, destruction of 20% of the stockpile is to be completed. After seven years, 45% of the destruction should be complete. Under the treaty countries must to stop any development, production, acquisition, stockpiling and retention of chemical weapons. The CWC requires States Parties to report the location of chemical weapons storage sites, the location and characteristics of chemical weapons production and research facilities and prohibits trade in certain chemicals with countries not party to the treaty.

The verification provisions of the CWC not only affect the military sector but also the civilian chemical industry, world-wide, through certain restrictions and obligations regarding the production, processing and consumption of chemicals that are considered relevant to the objectives of the Convention. The Convention also contains provisions on assistance in case a State Party is attacked or threatened with attack by chemical weapons and on promoting the trade in chemicals and related equipment among State Parties.

For a good article by article summary of the treaty, and a copy of the whole text go to:

4. What do individual governments have to do after they sign the CWC?

Once a government has ratified the Convention, it is required to declare all of its CW facilities (both commercial and public) within 30 days, and must destroy stockpiles within 10 years in an environmentally sound manner at its own expense. States Parties need to ensure that the prohibitions in the treaty are translated from international law, binding only on states, to Convention specifically requires States Parties to extend their obligations to private entities, it remain silent on precisely how to achieve this.

States are required to enact penal legislation, prohibiting their private citizens, no matter where they are on earth, from undertaking any of the activities prohibited to the state itself by the Convention. Many states have also enacted laws laying down an obligation to provide declaration required relating to production, processing, consumption, import and export of chemicals above thresholds specified in the Convention.

Click here for the Action Plan on Implementation of the CWC, adopted October 2003.

Another area in which most states have enacted legislation provides two-year, multiple-entry visa to inspectors who on 48 hours notification can inspect to clarify and resolve questions of non-compliance. During inspections they can interview personnel, request samples and evaluate chemical weapons destruction sites. They can evaluate a site for up to 84 hours.

What is the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons?

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons came into existence on 29 April 1997 and is based in The Hague, Netherlands. The OPCW is made up about 5,000 staff that monitors the destruction of chemical weapons and of chemical weapons production facilities. The staff also implements the complex declaration and short notice challenge inspections under the verification procedures, undertakes routine inspections and trains inspectors. The staff are accountable to all signatories and an Executive Council made up to 41 member states. In May 2000, the Director-General Mr. Jose Bustani was confirmed for a second term of four years starting 13 May 2000.

The Executive Council:

Elected for two years (2000-2002): Austria, Canada, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Chile, Cuba, Panama, Peru, Poland, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Morocco, Namibia and South Africa.

Elected for two years (1999- 2001): France, Germany, Italy, UK, Northern Ireland, US, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Romania, Ukraine, Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.

6. Who are the two biggest Chemical Rogues?


The Russian Federation possesses approximately 40,000 tonnes of CW agents stored at seven sites. The arsenal consist of the nerve agents sarin, soman and V-gas, the vesicants lewisite and mustard, and the choking agent phosgene. Approximately 80% of the stockpile consists of nerve agents.

As of 11 April 1992, Russia did not have a comprehensive destruction act. Although the State Duma unanimously passed such a bill on 27 December 1996, the Federation Council rejected it the following month. Nevertheless, plans for CW destruction continue to be developed. A comprehensive destruction act is needed to provide the legal basis for destruction, irrespective of Russia's ratification of the CWC.

Chemical weapon destruction efforts were hindered by a lack of funding ($3.35 billion is needed). The most significant assistance thus far is the US funding for the construction of a pilot CW destruction facility at Shchuchye (an estimated $600 million). US destruction aid is closely associated with a continuing joint evaluation of Russia's two-stage nerve agent destruction technology: the Russian-US Joint Evaluation Program. It is being conducted within the framework of the 1990 Bilateral Destruction Agreement and a 1994 Plan of Work addendum.

The United States

The US stockpile consists of over 30,000 tonnes of unitary CW gent and approximately 700 tonnes of binary components. It includes the nerve agents sarin and VX and the vesicant mustard. They are stored at the nine locations: Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean; Edgewood, Maryland; Anniston, Alabama; Blue Grass, Kentucky; Newport, Indiana; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Pueblo, Colorado; Tooele, Utah; and Umatilla, Oregon. The cost of destroying the US stockpile is currently estimated at approximately $12.4 billion. Large-scale destruction operations began at the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS) in 1990. The second destruction facility at Tooele, Utah, began operation in August 1996.

Incineration continues to be the US Army's baseline destruction technology, but alternative destruction technologies are also being considered because of the opposition be some parties to incineration. The US Army is required by law to consider alternative destruction technologies for the destruction of bulk agent. Three proposals by private industry plus two developed by the Army have been evaluated by the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition, the research, development, test and evaluation inventory comprises approximately 4400 kg, and recovered munitions and similar "non-stockpile" items amount to approximately 6100 kg. The programme for items which are not part of the US CW stockpile deals with recovered chemical munitions, chemical agent detector kits and miscellaneous chemical material stored at an estimated 65 sites. The destruction of non-stockpiled CW material will cost estimated $15.2 billion.

7. Which other States have or are suspected of having Chemical Weapons?

China - ratified the CWC on 25 April 1997; China has declared possession of former chemicals weapons production facilities; initial inspections have been conducted.
Egypt - has not signed the CWC.
Ethiopia - ratified the CWC on 13 May 1996.
India - ratified the CWC on 3 September 1996; India publicly announced itself to be a chemical weapons possessor on 26 June 1997; initial inspections have not been conducted.
Iran - ratified the CWC on 3 November 1997, initial inspections have begun.
Iraq - has not signed the CWC.
Israel - has signed, but not ratified the CWC.
Libya - has not signed the CWC.
Myanmar - has signed, but not ratified the CWC.
North Korea - has not signed CWC.
Pakistan - ratified the CWC on 28 October 1997; initial declaration submitted.
South Korea - ratified the CWC on 28 April 1997.
Syria - has not signed the CWC.
Taiwan - has not signed the CWC.
Vietnam - has signed but not ratified the CWC.

8. How are Chemical Weapons Destroyed?

Former Methods of Destruction

Previously the most common disposal methods for chemical weapons were land burial, sea dumping, detonation (firing or exploding the munitions) and open-pit burning. These methods may have been thought to be quite clever at the time (out of sight, out of mind), but their danger has since become starkly apparent.

Buried munitions pose problems environmentally. Once the munitions begin to corrode and leak, the agents can contaminate the surrounding soil and even get into water sources. Sea dumping of chemical munitions is another method of disposal that has caused a number of problems. Some of these dumping operations have occurred in relatively shallow water in the Baltic Sea and off the coast of Japan. In both of these regions, dumped chemical weapons caused serious problems for the fishing industry. Fishermen in the Baltic and off the coast of Japan still haul old chemical weapons up in their nets, and are sometimes exposed to still-active agents.

Destruction Methods of Today

There are two major confirmed technologies for destroying chemical weapons acceptable under the CWC limits today, incineration and chemical degradation. However, there are dozens of alternative technologies, and the number is growing.

Under the Baseline incineration process, chemical weapons are first taken to the demilitarization facility, where the chemical agent is removed from the munitions or bulk containers by automated equipment. This puts the workers at the demilitarization plant at a very low risk of contamination.

Chemical degradation (or chemical neutralization) technologies also take many different forms. There are a number of chemicals, namely alkalis and oxidants, which reduce and often negate the toxicity of chemical agents.

The Chemical Weapons Destruction Challenge

While the technologies for destroying chemical weapons do exist, in practice there are many factors that may come into conflict when the destruction process is carried out. The issues that must be considered include the high costs of destruction, safety, and environmental, legal and political factors.

Although environmentalist groups have legitimate concerns that the weapons be disposed of in an environmentally safe manner, weapons experts generally agree that it is environmentally much more dangerous for the weapons to remain in storage for the additional years required to develop alternative methods of destruction.

Safety must also be carefully considered in the destruction of chemical weapons. This entails precautions and regulations that protect not only employees working in the destruction facility, but also the civilian population surrounding the facility. Highly sensitive monitoring equipment must be used in order to ensure there is no leakage of toxic agents.

The United States claims it has 12,000 tons of chemical agents in munitions and another 19,000 tons in bulk storage. Russia, the sole in-heritor of the former Soviet Union's chemical weapon stockpile, officially reports its stockpile to be 40,000 tons. These two countries are the only signatories to the CWC that have admitted to possessing chemical weapons. In 1994, the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) declared that Iraqi chemical weapons capabilities had been destroyed, leaving Iraq with no surplus (or any) chemical weapons stocks. A large number of old and abandoned chemical weapons still exist in a number of countries. The total amount of chemical weapons and old and abandoned chemical weapons that must be destroyed worldwide is daunting. The original 1985 cost estimate for the destruction of the US chemical weapon stockpile was US $1.7 billion. Today, the estimated cost of destruction is about US $9 billion and growing.
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