The chemical weapons topic has recently reappeared in the news, due to the suspicious from the international community which usued in conflicts like in Syrian, by the Syrian army against the civilian population. Chemical weapons use the toxic properties of chemical substances to kill, injure or incapacitate an enemy .
Chemical weapons have been used in mass mainly since World War I, especially by German, French, American and British armies. Considered as mass destruction weapons, the international community decided to prohibit those kinds of weapons in 1993, creating the “chemical weapons Convention”
Here, I have chosen to present you the different categories of chemical warfare agents and to focus on two molecules used in those weapons: Nitrogen Mustard and Sarin agents. Then, I’ll rely those weapons to the history, from World War I to the Syrian conflict.
The first molecules used as weapons were Phosgene and Chlorine gas. Nitrogen Mustard appeared later. These compounds damage the skin and the respiratory system, involving severe burns, respiratory problems which cause asphyxiation then death. The third category of chemical weapons is the nerve gas, such as Sarin gas: a lethal nerve gas which kills within a few minutes. This gas acts by disconnecting the nerves by chemically interfering in the nerve synapses . The last group is called blood-group-cyanide and kills by cyanide poisoning. The effects are suffocation from lung muscle paralysis or permanent neurological damage. Sarin gas was used during World War II by the nazis to kill the detainees of the death camps on a massive scale.
The first chemical attack was made by the Germans during World War I. They used chlorine gas against the French army in April 1915 at Ypres, Belgium. Since that day, all protogonists of the first World War stared researches on new chemical weapons and on the way to protect their soldiers from the exposure to the chemicals. The use of chemicals during wars shocked all the protagonists while they were trying to create new molecules. As the international community was trying to eliminate and prohibit chemical weapons, many countries still employed them. The number of dead due to those weapons were not only the soldiers exposed on battlefields, but also the civilans who made the munitions. The Syrian conflict has illustrated the difficulties to control countries and armies.
Despite the many efforts made to reduce or eliminate them, some nations continue to research or stock chemical weapons. The Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) received the Nobel Peace Prize for its involvement in the regulation of chemical weapons, and the respect of the Protocol for the prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare. However, manu countries didn’t ratify it.
1. Webline site: Nationmaster.com
2. Kent Sepkowitz, The daily Beast newpaper, August 26, 2013. “Sarin, Nitrogen Mustard, Cyanide and More: All about Chemical Weapons”.