Chemical warfare is a military operation using the toxic properties of chemical substances to kill, injure or incapacitate the enemy.
Chemical warfare is different from the use of conventional weapons or nuclear weapons because the destructive effects of chemical weapons are not primarily due to any explosive force. Although rude chemical warfare has been employed in many parts of the world for thousands of years, “modern” chemical warfare began during World War I.
Initially, only well-known commercially available chemicals and their variants were used. These included chlorine and phosgene gas. Germany was the first side to employ chemical warfare on the battlefield, simply opened canisters of chlorine upwind of the opposing side and let the prevailing winds do the dissemination. Soon after, the French modified artillery munitions to contain phosgene — a much more effective method that became the principal means of delivery and that is for some reason consider them to be the first to use the real chemical weapons, because chemical weapon include not only chemicals themselves but also the means of their delivery.
A total 51,000 tons of poisoning agents were deployed by both sides of the conflict, including chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas. Official figures declared about 1,200,000 non-fatal casualties and 90,000 fatalities directly caused by chemical weapon agents during the course of the war.
After the war, most of the unused German chemical weapon agents were dropped into the Baltic Sea. Over time, the salt water caused the shell casings to corrode, and mustard gas occasionally leaked from these containers and washed onto shore as a wax-like solid resembling amber. Even in this solidified form, the agent was active enough to cause severe contact burns to anybody handling it.
After World War I, the United States and many of the European powers occasionally used chemical agents to subdue populations and suppress rebellions in their colonies and dependable territories.
During Spanish occupation of Morocco in 1921-1927, combined Spanish and French forces dropped mustard gas bombs in an attempt to put down the Berber rebellion. In 1935 Fascist Italy used mustard gas during the invasion of Ethiopia. Ignoring the Geneva Protocol, which it signed seven years earlier, the Italian military dropped mustard gas in bombs, sprayed it from airplanes, and spread it in powdered form on the ground. 15,000 chemical casualties were reported, mostly from mustard gas.
During World War II, chemical warfare was revolutionized by Nazi Germany’s accidental discovery of the nerve agents tabun, sarin and soman. The Nazis developed and manufactured large quantities of several agents, but chemical weapon was not extensively used by either side because German intelligence incorrectly thought that the Allies also knew of these compounds fearing a potentially devastating Allied retaliatory nerve agent deployment. Notwithstanding the Japanese did used it.
After World War TI, the threat of global thermonuclear annihilation was foremost in the minds of most during the Cold War, both the Soviet and Western governments put enormous resources into developing chemical and biological weapons. Such weapons were used in Vietnam War by U. S army. It was also used during the Iran-Iraq War begun in 1980.
Early in the conflict, Iraq began to employ mustard gas and tabun delivered by bombs dropped from airplanes; approximately 5 % of all Iranian casualties are directly attributable to the use of these agents. Iraq and the U. S. government alleged that Iran was also using chemical-weapons, but independent sources were unable to confirm these allegations. Many were hit by mustard gas. The official estimate does not include the civilian population contaminated in bordering towns, but about 100,000 Iranian soldiers were victims of Iraq’s chemical attacks.
Shortly before war ended in 1988, Iraqi army used chemical weapons against civilians in the Iraqi Kurdish village Halabja* killing about 5,000 of the town’s 50,000 residents. After the incident, traces of mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin, tabun and VX were discovered.
In general about 70 different chemicals have been used or stockpiled as Chemical Weapons agents during the 20th century. These agents may be in liquid, gas or solid form.
Chemical weapons are classified as weapons of mass destruction by the United Nations, and their production and stockpiling was outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. Notwithstanding some countries keep researching and producing this kind of WMD.
For many terrorist organizations, chemical weapons might be considered an ideal choice for a mode of attack, if they are available: they are cheap, relatively-accessible, and easy to transport.
In 2001, after carrying out the attacks in New York City on September 11, the organization Al Qaeda announced that they were attempting to acquire radiological, biological and chemical weapons. This threat was lent a great deal of credibility, because a skilled chemist can readily synthesize most chemical agents if the precursors are available and that is why it is a big concern today.