Image shared by Christopher Mooney under a Creative Commons license.

Chemical Warfare: 100 years on

1915 marked the first use of chemical weapons in modern warfare at the Second Battle of Ypres. On this day in 1997, the Chemical Weapons Convention came into effect, prohibiting the use, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons by signatories. In recent months, the use of chlorine gas as a weapon in north-west Syria has been filmed and reported. How far have we really come?

On the 22nd April, 1915, the Second Battle of Ypres began, and with it the dawn of chemical warfare. German forces used over 170 tonnes of chlorine gas to attack French troops. The French sustained more than 6,000 casualties during that battle alone, with the number of deaths due to chemical weapons rising to over 30,000 over the war.

In the 1960’s the first intergovernmental consideration of a ban on these type of weapons began. By 1984, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) became and official body which went on to submit to the UN, in 1992, its annual report containing the text of the Chemical Weapons Convention. This was approved in the same year, and opened for signatures soon after. It came into force on the 29th April 1997 and has been signed by 190 countries.

Not only are countries still using chemical weapons, they are often used on civilian targets. In Syria, numerous villages have been attacked using Sarin or chlorine gas. Footage sent to the UN in March 2015 showed images of doctors unsuccessfully attempting to revive young children. The BBC comment that as chlorine is not a very effective weapon (it disperses, quickly in open space, but is incredibly deadly in enclosed areas), “the most likely logic for its reported use is as psychological warfare, spreading fear by evoking traumatic memories of the much more serious chemical attacks in 2013.”

The CWC treaty is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), based in The Hague, NL. This year, they have issued a declaration, reaffirming their commitment to complete disarmament; 190 states have signed the declaration. Members of a number of international chemical societies also attended the event to call for the elimination of the use of chemicals as agents of war.  David Cole-Hamilton, president of the European Association of Chemical and Molecular Sciences spoke at the event, issuing a message to scientists: “The most important message to deliver is that no chemist should ever work on the development of chemical weapons – they are completely unnecessary in the world. So we call on all chemists to abandon any work on these kinds of chemicals.”.

H/T – Chemistry World


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