Chemical Weapons: Meaning, Use & Regulation

Chemical Weapons: Meaning, Use & Regulation

The recent use of chemical weapons namely Sarin & Chlorine in Syria has again brought out the dangerous nature of such weapons. Let us know more about chemical weapons:

What are chemical weapons?

As per Organisaion for prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a chemical weapon is a toxic chemical contained in a delivery system, such as a bomb or shell.

Chemical weapons are classified as weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), though they are distinct from nuclear weapons, biological weapons, and radiological weapons.

Instances of Use of Chemical Weapons:

First World War witnessed use of mustard gas, phosgene gas and others causing lung searing, blindness, death and maiming. Mustard gas is the world’s most commonly used chemical weapon, it was widely used in World War I, and gets its name from its distinctive odour of rotten mustard. It is slow acting, and only about 5% to 10% of people exposed to it usually die.

Syrian Civil War: Doctors and first-responders have confirmed the use of sarin gas in Syria. This odourless, colourless agent is extremely potent — even trace amounts can kill humans — but its threat after being released in the atmosphere is short-lived. The UN had confirmed the use of Sarin in the deaths of hundreds in a rebel-held Damascus suburb in 2013.

Commonly used Chemical Weapons

Among the most commonly used chemical weapons are mustard gas, phosgene, chlorine, and the nerve agents Sarin and VX.

Nerve agent VX is odourless, and appears as a brownish oily substance. It is very persistent — once in the atmosphere, it is slow to evaporate, and thus tends to cause prolonged exposure.

How does international community regulate use of Chemical weapons?

The use of Chemical weapons is regulated by Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) & Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Chemical Weapons Convention

The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is the most recent arms control agreement with the force of International law. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is an arms control treaty which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons  The treaty is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an intergovernmental organization based in The Hague, Netherlands. The treaty entered into force in 1997. The parties’ main obligation under the convention is to effect the prohibition and the destruction of all current chemical weapons. The destruction activities are verified by the OPCW.

 Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is an intergovernmental organisation, located in The Hague, Netherlands.

The organisation promotes and verifies the adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention which prohibits the use of chemical weapons and requires their destruction. The verification consists both of evaluation of declarations by member states and on-site inspections.

The organisation was awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize because it had, with the Chemical Weapons Convention.


India & Chemical Weapons: 

India declared its stock of chemical weapons in June 1997. India’s declaration came after the entry into force of the CWC that created the OPCW. India declared a stockpile of 1044 tonnes of sulfur mustard in its possession. On January 14, 1993, India became an original signatory to the CWC. In 2005, among the six nations that declared stockpiles of chemical weapons, India was the only one to meet its deadline for chemical weapons destruction and for inspection of its facilities by the OPCW.  On May 14, 2009, India informed the United Nations that it had completely destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons.

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