Chemical weapons are prohibited, however recent chemical weapons attacks in Malaysia, Syria, Iraq and the UK have raised concerns about their use. In the UK in 2018, four people were taken seriously ill and one person died following exposure to a Novichok, a type of nerve agent. The UK Government recently announced £11m to strengthen the UK’s chemical defences and highlighted chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats as an area of focus in the recent Modernising Defence Programme. This briefing provides an overview of chemical weapons including types of chemical weapons and modes of delivery, chemical weapons control and disarmament, investigations of alleged attacks and chemical weapons defence in the UK.Jump to full report >>
‘Chemical weapons’ refers to the use of toxic chemicals to inflict deliberate harm to humans or animals. They are prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which entered into force in 1997 and has been committed to by 193 states. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is the international body responsible for implementing the CWC. This includes: verifying the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles, monitoring certain chemicals and carrying out investigations into alleged chemical weapons attacks.
There have been several reports of chemical weapons attacks in recent years. A Human Rights Watch analysis identified 85 attacks in Syria between August 2013 and February 2018. Joint OPCW-UN investigations in Syria attributed four chemical weapons attacks to the Syrian Government, and two to Daesh. Other incidents include the reported use of chemical weapons in Iraq by Daesh, and the alleged assassination of Kim Jong-nam using the nerve agent VX. In the UK in 2018, four people were taken seriously ill and one person died following exposure to a Novichok, a type of nerve agent.
The international response to events in Syria has included airstrikes on chemical weapons facilities in Syria, official OPCW investigations and a new mechanism to give the OPCW powers to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons use. In the UK, the Government announced a £48m investment in the Chemical Weapons Defence Centre at Porton Down in March 2018, which will include new chemical analysis laboratories. It also announced £11m to strengthen the UK’s response to chemical weapons attacks in March 2019, which will include investment in new technical capabilities for substance analysis and development of plans to deploy robots and drones to contaminated areas. The UK Government’s Modernising Defence Programme, published in December 2018, said that UK defence will focus on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats.
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:
*Denotes those who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.
Image Copyright: Avon Protection
Authors: Lorna Christie; Jeni Spragg
Topics: Armed forces, Asia, Defence policy, Emergencies and disaster management, Emergency services, International law, International politics and government, Middle East, Military operations, Overseas territories, Science, Terrorism
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