The chemical weapons are either some gases or liquid, formulated with the aim to inflict death of living. A chemical weapon is anything that injures, irritate or kill by mean of chemical activity. These are ‘the chemicals of mass destruction’. These are different from conventional weapons not only in their formulation but also due to different mode of harm they inflict.
Chemical weapons are liquid at room temperature and turn into gases upon release. The most lethal of these are nerve agents or nerve gases. These agents are composed of sulfur mustards components. Some examples are mustard gas and phosgene which were widely used in world war 1.
The first chemical weapon
Gerhard Schrader, accidentally developed first chemical weapon (nerve agent) in 1934. This was actually tabun. But considering their use as biological war weapon, researchers made more effort to discover and produce more nerve agents. Chemists developed approximately 2000 other nerve agents by the end of second world war. Three of the nerve agents are termed as classic nerve agents as they represent a specific class of chemicals. These are:
- Tabun is easiest to produce and its chemical name is O-ethyl dimethylaminophosphorylcyanide (GA).
- Serin, produced in 1944, and chemically it is isopropyl methylphosphonoflouridate.
- Soman last in series of classic nerve gases and chemically it is pinacolyl methylphosphonoflouridate.
Chemical weapons in war
Although the first chemical weapons, the nerve gases, were accidentally prepared. Yet they do have a role as the warfare weapons. The basic nerve gases of G series were all discovered or prepared during the First World War. After the production of tabun the Ministry of Chemical Warfare in Germany allowed the scientist to search for further chemical agents like tabun so that they could be used in warfare.
- The Nazi Germans committed genocide against Jews in World War 2. In many cases, they used commercial hydrogen cyanide blood agents (with the name Zyklon B). This resulted in largest death toll by means of chemical weapons.
- During the World War 2, German army weapons ministry allowed the production of nerve gases and agents as biological weapons. During the same period, researchers developed the V series of nerve agents.
- The massive use of nerve agents by Iraq. Iraq used mustard gas against the Kurds and Iranian troops (1980-1988).
- On 20 marches 1995, terrorists used the chemical weapons in a domestic terrorist attack in Tokyo, (Tokyo Subway Sarin attack). It was the deadliest attack in Japan after the Second World War. It not only killed many people but also about five thousand suffered temporary blindness.
- During Gulf War, no chemical weapons were used at large scale. However, some of the U.S personals exposed to these gases during the destruction of chemical depot of these weapons. But this exposure caused the Gulf War Syndrome. This is a disorder of many physical and mental health problems. Many people suffered this disorder particularly the veterans and civilian workers of the gulf war.
- During the Syrian civil war in 2013, sarin gas was used at large scale. It killed hundreds and thousands of people in Syria. These chemical weapons are still in use in Syria.
- In 2016, the pepper spray and the nerve gases remain common use by police and army in conflicts. The pepper spray is not lethal yet it causes blindness and skin irritation.
States with stockpiles of chemical weapons
In June 1997, India affirmed its stocks of chemical weapons. Reports show the huge stockpiles of chemical weapons in India. These are about 1044 tons of sulfur mustard. In 200, India became one of the six nations to have stocks of lethal chemicals. According to the rules of organization and prohibition of chemical weapons (OPCW), India reported to UN that it had completely destroyed its chemical weapons.
During Iraq-Iran war, the former used mustard gases absent Kurdish. Halabja chemical attack on March 16, 1988, killed about 3000-5000 people including the civilians and army.
Japan also stored chemical war weapons form 1937-1945. These were mostly the mustard and lewisite gas mixture. However, in September 2010, Japan reported destruction of all stocks, as instructed by OPWC.
Libya used a massive amount of chemical weapons during Muammar Gaddafi regime. They have destroyed most of their stocks. But, it still has stocks of about 11.25 tons of chemical weapons. The national transitional council of Libya after the regime of Muammar Qaddafi is cooperating with the OPCW to ensure the complete destruction of any type of lethal chemicals.
Russia had one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons. However, by the end of 2016, Russia destroyed about 94% of its chemical stocks. In September 2017, Russia announced to destroy its last batch of chemical weapons. Yet in March 2018, Russia was alleged to have stockpiles of these but also to conduct a chemical attack in Salisbury.
Syrian government admitted on 23 July, 2012 to have stocks of chemical weapons. Syria produces few hundred tons of these lethal weapons annually. Previously, in 2007, a chemical weapon depot of Syrian army exploded causing a few causalities. The government declared it was nothing related to chemical weapons. In august 2012, stock of chemical weapons was located in east Aleppo. Similarly, the first use of chemical weapon was reported in Syrian uprising and conflicts in March 2013. the Syrian army massively used chemical weapon in Ghouta in August 2013. Syrian army is still using these lethal gases killing a huge number of innocent civilians there.
The use of chemical weapons is an inhuman act and is never justified. United States has destroyed about 90% of chemical weapon’s stocks. However, the complete destruction will take up to 2023. And this is possible if all the countries immediately stop the production and stockpiling these chemical weapons.