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Andrew Kokanoutranon

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Unresolved World Problems: Biological and Chemical Weapons

Biological and Chemical Weapons Audio

The world today is heading down a road of devastation and destruction. The threat of a catastrophic biological and chemical attack is growing at an alarming and ghastly rate in today’s society. Because biological and chemical weapons are low cost and are able to produce a high rate of casualties, it is growing into a hefty burden on the world’s future. Biological and chemical warfare’s status in today’s world is under looked and must be a priority on the list of major global problems. We must look into the past to fix our mistakes and errors to resolve the dilemma of tomorrow’s world.

             The history of biological and chemical warfare has been traced back to the ancient times. One of the most primitive examples of chemical warfare can be linked back to the San, a hunter-gatherer tribe that lived in the late Stone Age, around 10,000 B.C., used poison arrows to hunt for food (Wikipedia). Ingeniously, the San acquired the poison from scorpions, venomous snakes, and poisonous plants. This method of hunting is still in use today in the tropic rainforests by villagers and tribes. 

            By the 5th century B.C., ancient Greece had poisonous gases in their arsenal of weapons. The Spartans favored a toxic gas that consisted of a mixture of wood, pitch, and sulfur; they used this combination of chemicals against the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War. This type of warfare seems to have disappeared in ancient combat, but reemerged during the 15th century. Sieges and wars all had a type of chemical weapon in use; the armies used shells filled with chemicals to start fires. The methods may seem primitive but it was deadly.

            Biological and chemical warfare played a large role in the two World Wars. The gases and nerve agents were even more fatal than before. Both sides, the Allies and the Central Powers used a type of chemical during the war. Agents such as anthrax, typhoid, and the bubonic plague were favorite weapons of the Japanese forces. The Nazis also used hydrogen cyanide to kill many of the prisoners in concentration camps (Wikipedia). The utilization of toxic chemicals in past wars has been very atrocious and primitive by our standards of war.

            The current status of biological and chemical weapons is raising many eye brows. The threat of a catastrophic attack by terrorist or hot-headed countries is becoming more and more realistic. Today, six countries around the world have confirmed of having stockpiles of chemical agents and about another twenty countries confirmed of having biological weapons. The United States, Russia, France, Iran, and the People’s Republic of China all claim to have chemical weapons production facilities (Wikipedia). Not too long ago, Iraq was known to have production facilities, and when the United States and United Nations invaded Iraq, they were able to destroy numerous facilities and stockpiles. It is a clear fact that weapons of mass destruction could be put to use in the future.

            Iraq was an immense threat to the world when Saddam Hussein was in power. Just a few years ago, Saddam and other terrorist groups in Iraq and neighboring countries were committing atrocious crimes, using toxic chemicals such as mustard gas to kill off opposing forces. During the Iraq-Iran War, about 5% of all Iranian casualties fell victim to chemicals from bombs that the Iraqis dropped. In total, approximately 100,000 Iranian troops died from the chemical attacks, and about 20,000 of them were killed immediately by nerve gases (Wikipedia). Killings like the ones in the Iraq-Iran War have been prevented if the cause was fixed earlier. There are about 71,373 tons of stockpiled chemical weapons that have been officially checked, and only about 12,434 tons have been proliferated. Even though tons and tons of chemicals are being eliminated, terrorist groups only need to formulate or acquire a few ounces to a few pounds of chemicals to generate a huge disaster in a small area (Godber). The threat is still real and motives to create weapons of mass destruction are high.

            Intents for production and utilization of biological and chemical weapons are hopefully apparent to the world. A mass killing-spree at the lowest cost possible is one of the terrorists’ motives behind creating chemical weapon. Another reason why chemical weapons are a favorite of terrorist is because of the lack of ability to properly detect and effectively dispose of the chemicals. Once placed in a container, the chemicals are virtually impossible to distinguish rather than a conventional weapon such as a bomb or a gun. These armaments are known as the “poor man’s atomic bomb,” and it can cost only a few dollars to produce enough chemicals to annihilate a square kilometer of civilians (Godber). Besides being very affordable, chemical weapons also possesses the ability to be exceptionally light weight, this is especially important because it could be carried to virtually everywhere. The technology of chemical detection must improve significantly to prevent future disasters. 

            The Soviet Union and other third world countries claimed to have sold biological and chemical weapons to other terrorist-supported countries or on the black market. The production of chemical weapons is incredibly hazardous and one mishap may kill the person manufacturing the product. Besides the use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups, countries such as the United States and Russia still use some sort of chemical weapon for either taming riots or stand-offs with an armed suspect. For instance, when the Chechen rebel group took over a Moscow theater, the police ventilated noxious gas to subdue the rebels but ended up killing 128 people still inside. The use of nerve gases is reasonable in various situations, but should be used as an alternative source of firepower by law enforcement and the more noxious agents should be strictly reserved as a last-case scenario. It is not worth risking the lives of innocent bystanders or hostages to subdue a suspect, which is why the extremely toxic gases and agents used by the law sure be ban.

            The banishment of biological and chemical weapons has been attempted numerous times before. The first efforts to demolish chemical weapons can be traced back to the late 1800s during the post American Civil War era. The Brussels Declaration was signed in 1874 and forbidden the "employment of poison or poisoned weapons." In the post World War 1 era, the Washington Arms Conference Treaty was signed by the United States, Britain, Japan, France, and Italy; it outlawed the uses of any type of toxic gases. Even though the treaty was signed by conflicting nations, it was never put into effect due to objections from France. A few years later, in 1929, the Geneva Protocol was signed by the same countries that fought in World War 1. It met the same requirements the Washington Arms Conference Treaty had put fourth, but this time around, the treaty was utilized. After centuries of treaties and compromises, chemical weapons are still in use today.

            The Chemical Weapons Convention, also known as the CWC, is modern day’s treaty to proliferate chemical weapons. Unlike past treaties, the CWC sets realistic and strict goals to completely wipe out all stockpiles of chemical weapons. It was put into effect on April 29, 1997 and it was signed by 175 countries. The goals of the CWC include abolishment of the development, production, stockpiling and the use of any chemical weapons. The end objective of the convention is total proliferation of chemical weapons by the April 2012. The CWC distinguishes the different types of chemicals by “schedules.” Chemical weapons are classified into schedules 1 – 3 depending on its use industrially or medically and then by its potency (OPCW). In 2004, four years after the beginning of the reduction stage, only 14% of known chemical weapons stockpiles had been destroyed worldwide; it was exceedingly short of the proposed 45% reduction. Today, there are 71,373 tons of chemical weapons stockpiled, countries known to have stockpiles include the United States, Russia, India, and Albania (Wikipedia). Countries such as the United States and Russia have enormous sums of stockpiled weapons; Russia is expected to reach complete demolishment of chemical weapons in 2027 and the U.S in 2014. The goals of abolishment are still realistic if all goes as planned and countries are working together.

            The future of the world may be in grave danger if chemical weapons are not demolished soon. As tension and fear grow between conflicting nations, one drastic move can send the world into turmoil. Hot-headed countries craving for more power have the ability to launch attacks, nuclear or chemical, on neighboring countries; such as the incident with Suddam’s regime and Kuwait’s oil. Other threats besides conflicting countries include terrorist and rebel groups. Terrorist groups tend to favor the chemical weapons not only because it is light weight but it is also able to cause a great number of casualties in a given area. Desperate insurgents have the power to purchase and use chemical weapons, as many terrorists have done in the past. Chemical weapon stockpiles must be watched closely to prevent any leakage to terrorist cells.

            The CWC’s plan to wipe out all stockpiles of chemical weapons is playing a large role in today’s world. Without the creation of the CWC, problems dealing with chemical weapons may get out of hand. If the CWC was never put into use, the stockpiles of weapons would still be growing at an alarming rate today, as if 71,000 tons of chemical weapons aren’t enough to destroy a large population; but with the CWC in hand, tomorrows world maybe be in good shape of avoiding a massive chemical attack by conflicting nations. Even though the demolishment of countries’ chemical stockpiles is put in effect, the threat from terrorist attacks is still very real.

As tensions between governments and rebel groups grow, the terrorist groups begin to grow more desperate and more radical attacks may lead to a devastating attack. Through the help of the strict guidelines of the CWC, the world’s future is safe from any attack by conflicting countries, but we have to still be aware of terrorist cells.

            Numerous solutions can be implemented to stop the production and use of chemical weapons. The CWC is probably the most important and practical idea towards banishment of chemical weapons. As I have stated before, the CWC’s goal is to destroy all of the chemical stockpiles in the world today, they plan to meet this objective by the end of April 2012. The numbers of chemical weapons is decreasing by almost half every few years. The implementation of other practical plans can also be put to use in the very near future. For example, raising public knowledge of chemical attacks can drastically reduce the number of victims, especially in areas with a dense population. Better regulation of binary weapons can also reduce the number of attacks; airport and other public transportations should implement the use of X-rays and chemical detectors (Godber). Governments should invest in new detection technology for the best results, prevention is the key. For now, the world is still in need of an ideal solution that could be put into practice as soon as possible.

            Through the years, biological and chemical weapons have developed from primitive hunting techniques to weapons of mass destruction. It played a role in countless wars in the past and it effects are feared by many. Chemicals weapons must be put on the list of the world’s major problem. The threat of a catastrophic biological and chemical attack is growing at a shocking speed in today’s society. Because biological and chemical weapons are low cost and are able to produce a high rate of casualties, it is growing into a hefty burden on the world’s future. The world must band together to prevent and destroy all stockpiles of chemical weapons.



MLA Citations:

Brian, Marshall. “How Biological and Chemical Warfare Works.” How Stuff Works. HowStuffWorks Inc. 1 March 2006.


Buffett. Interview with Lou Dobbs. CNN. 19 June 2005. 28 February 2006.


“Chemical Warfare.” Wikipedia. 1 March 2006. GNU Documentation. 28 February 2006.


“Chemical Warfare Agents.” OPCW. 1 March 2006.


Clayton, Mark. “The Brains Behind Iraq’s Arsenal.” “The Christian Sciencec Monitor.” 23 Oct – Nov. 2002.


Dicky, Christopher, and Evan Thomas. “How Saddam Happened.” Newsweek 23 September 2002: 34 – 41.


Godber, Austin. “Terrorist Use of Chemical Weapons.” Unpublished essay. September 2001. Arizona State University.


"Nti: Global Security Newswire." Nti. 31 Oct. 2002. National Group Journal. 21 Mar. 2006


Tucker, Jonathan B. War of Nerves. Pantheon Books. Page 479 – 481.


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