Why are chemical weapons worse than other weapons of mass destruction? (The Guardian)


Recently The Guardian, one of the most prestigious newspapers in the United Kingdom and globally, published an interesting article entitled   Why chemical weapons are worse than other weapons of mass destruction?

Taking the Syrian war as a reference, its author raises the question of why there is an international agreement for the non-proliferation of chemical weapons, but that there is no such agreement for the use of other types of weapons of mass destruction.

The article reviews the evolution of the different international agreements signed during the last two centuries by most countries in the international sphere. Beginning with the Declaration of San Petersburgh of 1868 until the Statute of Rome of the International Criminal Court of 1998,  through the Conventions of The Hague of 1899 and 1907 or the Convention on Chemical Weapons of 1993, the author emphasizes the lack of an explicit list of the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction that can serve as a reference in the international context and that is sanctioned by a relevant majority of countries.

Taking as reference the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Storage and Use of Chemical Weapons and on its destruction in 1993, which is administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), with headquarters in The Hague. It is important to highlight that this Convention distinguishes 3 types of chemical substances classified as Chemical Weapons and that therefore must be controlled:

  • Schedule 1: chemical substances that are used mainly for the manufacture of chemical weapons and whose use outside that manufacture is minimal (sometimes pharmaceutical research or defense systems against chemical weapons). The countries must declare an annual production higher than 100 grams, and the maximum storage limit is 1 ton. Examples of these substances are mustard gas or nerve agents.
  • Schedule 2: Chemical substances with lawful applications with small-scale quantities. Countries must declare their manufacture and there are restrictions on their international trade. An example of this substance is Thiodiglycol, which can be used both for the manufacture of mustard gas and solvent for inks.
  • Schedule 3: Chemical substances with licit applications with large-scale quantities. Countries must declare their manufacture when they produce more than 30 tons and there are also restrictions on their international trade. Examples of these substances are phosgene (which can be used as a chemical weapon but also as a precursor of organic and inorganic components) or Triethanolamine (used in the manufacture of mustard nitrogen, but also used in the manufacture of detergents).

The strength of this convention lies in the fact that, to date, 192 of the 195 countries recognized by the United Nations have signed and ratified the treaty.

However, neither the signing of the treaty nor the monitoring and control exercised by the OPCW for its execution and respect suppose that the threat of an incident with chemical agents has disappeared.

On the one hand there are the facts verified and proven by OPCW itself of the use of chemical agents (as in the recent case of the Syrian war).

On the other hand we must bear in mind that Hazmat or CBRNe incidents may be caused by a deliberate use of the chemical agent (by a country in the case of a war but also by a terrorist group) or by an accident.

That is, although the OPCW and the Non-Proliferation of Chemical Weapons Convention can control and reduce Hazmat incidents caused by the use of chemical weapons in a war scenario by one of the opposing countries, unfortunately the risk of a Hazmat incident provoked by a terrorist attack or an accident (whether industrial or caused by a natural disaster) continues to exist.

For this reason, Defense and Security Programs and Strategies continue to consider the possibilities and risks of a CBRN incident, a High Impact and Low Probability (HILP) event  for which the appropriate management protocols must be developed, including the training and coordination of the different Agencies, Teams and Emergency Units with responsibilities in the management of an incident of this type.

An example of this preparation we have in the combined exercises that the UME (Military Emergency Unit) organizes annually. In 2018 named Region de Murcia 2018 involved the realization of a simulation of a catastrophe scenario due to seismic risk that would produce derived risks with predominance of Environmental and CBRN Risks during 5 days with the participation of more than 3,500 personnel.

Hispano Vema had the privilege of collaborating in the development of this Combined Joint Exercise whose objective is to faithfully reproduce the context of an Emergency and to carry out the validation of the Contingency Plans of the State Civil Protection Plans for the management of Hazmat or CBRN incidents .

In this context, the objective of Minimizing Risks and Saving Lives is the paramount aspect and for this the decontamination of people (ambulatory or non-ambulatory) is a key element, either with decontamination showers integrated in CBRN rapid deployment systems or with Decontamination Tents (or Mass Decontamination Stations for personnel).

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