Chemical, biological weapons still a challenge: SIPRI


Scientific and technological developments, such as the increasing overlap between the chemical and biological sciences, are a major challenge to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and one that will be highly relevant in coming years. That’s the view of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

In its latest yearbook, released yesterday, it said reports emerged in May last year of severe crop damage caused by an unusual leaf blight affecting poppies in Afghanistan. This led to an estimated 48% decrease in opium yields from 2009. “There was speculation that the blight was deliberately induced,” SIPRI says. Such allegations highlighted the difficulty of distinguishing between fundamental and technical violations of international law and the possible role of a form of politicized legal dispute that aims to cast aspersions on the behaviour of other states.”

SIPRI adds the parties to the BTWC held the final meetings of the 2007–10 inter-sessional process and prepared for the Seventh Conference of the States Parties, which will be held in December 2011.

The earliest documented incident of the intention to use biological weapons is recorded in Hittite texts of 1500–1200 BC, in which victims of plague were driven into enemy lands. The wikipedia notes offensive biological warfare, including mass production, stockpiling and use of biological weapons, was outlawed by the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The rationale behind this treaty, which has been ratified or acceded to by 163 countries as of 2009, is to prevent a biological attack which could conceivably result in large numbers of civilian fatalities and cause severe disruption to economic and societal infrastructure.

Crude chemical warfare have also been employed for thousands of years. But “modern” chemical warfare dates from World War I (1914-1918). Efforts to outlaw chemical warfare date to at least August 1874 when the Brussels Declaration Concerning the Laws and Customs of War was signed, specifically forbidding the “employment of poison or poisoned weapons.” In September 1900 the Hague Conference banned the “use of projectiles the object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases”, although this did not stop belligerents from doing so from 1915. The Geneva Protocol of September 1929 prohibited the use of poison gas.

Pic: An archive photo of US 155mm mustard gas artillery projectiles.