The modern use of chemical weapons began with World War I, when both sides to the conflict used poisonous gas to inflict agonizing suffering and to cause significant battlefield casualties. Such weapons basically consisted of well known commercial chemicals put into standard munitions such as grenades and artillery shells. Chlorine, phosgene (a choking agent) and mustard gas (which inflicts painful burns on the skin) were among the chemicals used. The results were indiscriminate and often devastating. Nearly 100,000 deaths resulted. Since World War I, chemical weapons have caused more than one million casualties globally.Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: Genesis and Development
As a result of public outrage, the Geneva Protocol, which prohibited the use of chemical weapons in warfare, was signed in 1925.
The history of the serious efforts to achieve chemical disarmament that culminated in the conclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention began more than a century ago. Although toxic chemicals have been used as a method of warfare throughout the ages, it is clear from some of the earliest recorded incidents that such weapons have always been viewed as particularly abhorrent. A thorough account of the history of the negotiations of the CWC is found in Julian Perry Robinson, 'The negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Convention: An historical overview', in M. Bothe et al. (eds.), The New Chemical Weapons Convention: Implementation and Prospects, 17-36 (1998).“Non-Lethal” Chemical Weapons: Kosher?
The first international agreement limiting the use of chemical weapons dates back to 1675, when France and Germany came to an agreement, signed in Strasbourg, prohibiting the use of poison bullets.
The question of context is illustrated by the well-worn discussion about so called “non-lethal weapons”. A range of old and new weapons technologies have been described and promoted collectively as “non-lethal weapons”. However, it is misleading to characterise any weapon in terms of ‘lethality’ or ‘non-lethality’. ... The outcome of use of a weapon will be dependent on the characteristics of the particular weapon, the specific context of its use, and the individual vulnerabilities of the victim.
In other words, for the purposes of international humanitarian law there are no new “non-lethal weapons”, only new weapons.
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