How Dangerous Are Chemical Weapons?

Evidence has emerged that the Islamic State
has been using weaponized mustard gas in Syria and Iraq. Chemical weapons warfare has long
been outlawed, and yet they’ve been used on numerous occasions throughout the 20th
century. So, just how dangerous are chemical weapons? Well, chemical weapons are considered “Weapons
of Mass Destruction,” alongside nuclear and biological weaponry. There have been numerous
international bans on their use, stemming from 1899, when the Hague Convention prohibited
using “poisonous arms” or “asphyxiating gases.” In 1925 the Geneva Protocol further
enacted a ban on both chemical and biological agents, saying that they are “justly condemned
by the general opinion of the civilized world”. The most comprehensive international ban was
the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which also prohibited production or stockpiling. But despite these restrictions, the first
modern use of chemical weapons was during World War I. Lethal gases like phosgene caused
severe irritation in the lungs, eyes, and throat. Victims would often have difficulty
breathing as their lungs would slowly fill with fluid, killing them as long as 48 hours
after exposure. In particular, chlorine would react with water in the lungs, creating hydrochloric
acid, and causing severe pain and death. Non-lethal but still illegal chemicals were used as well,
including tear and mustard gas. These would cause blistering of the skin and internal
chemical burns. Throughout World War One, chemical weapons caused over 100,000 deaths,
and affected more than a million people. During the Second World War, chemicals were
only used by Japan the Japanese against other Asian countries. While the Nazis possessed
gas weapons, but were afraid of a severe response if deployed. The Allies also refused to use
deadly gas, although at one point Winston Churchill did propose dropping poison gas
and anthrax over Germany. After the war, the Allies discovered Germany’s
stockpile of nerve agents. These are chemicals which work by disrupting the nervous system,
and lead to a loss of body control. They eventually cause death by suffocation. Increased research
into chemical weapons led to both the US and the USSR developing and creating tens of thousands
of tons to stockpile throughout the Cold War. But the most infamous use of chemical weapons
was during the Iran-Iraq War. In the 1980s, Iraq received money and supplies from the
United States and Germany to develop chemical weapons. But in 1988, both mustard gas and
nerve agents were used against a Kurdish civilian village, leading to as many as 5,000 deaths
and 10,000 injuries. The attack has since been called an act of genocide, and was the
single largest chemical attack against civilians ever. In the years since, the only use of chemical
weapons has been by terrorist groups. Luckily, the most recent ban has led to a 90% decline
in the world’s stockpile. Still, chemical weapons are especially dangerous due to their
indiscriminate, long lasting, and painful effects. In the wrong hands, they are considerably
more terrifying than most conventional weapons. But who is to blame for chemical weapons use
in Syria and Iraq? Is it the U.S.? Find out more in the Seeker Daily episode up top. And
to learn more about just how we regulate the use of chemical weapons in warfare, check
out our video below. Thanks for joining us on TestTube News! Remember to like and subscribe
so you won’t miss our new episodes.

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