chemical warfare

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chemical warfare,

employment in war of incendiaries, poison gasespoison gas,
any of various gases sometimes used in warfare or riot control because of their poisonous or corrosive nature. These gases may be roughly grouped according to the portal of entry into the body and their physiological effects.
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, and other chemical substances. Ancient armies attacking or defending fortified cities threw burning oil and fireballs. A primitive type of flamethrowerflamethrower,
mechanism for shooting a burning stream of liquid or semiliquid fuel at enemy troops or positions. Primitive types of flamethrowers, consisting of hollow tubes filled with burning coals, sulfur, or other materials, came into use as early as the 5th cent. B.C.
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 was employed as early as the 5th cent. B.C.; modern types are still in use. In the Middle Ages, before the introduction of gunpowder, a flammable composition known as Greek fireGreek fire,
a flammable composition believed to have consisted of sulfur, naphtha, and quicklime. Although known in antiquity, it was first employed on a large scale by the Byzantines.
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 was used. Smoke from burning straw or other material was employed in early times, but its effectiveness is uncertain.

Poison gaspoison gas,
any of various gases sometimes used in warfare or riot control because of their poisonous or corrosive nature. These gases may be roughly grouped according to the portal of entry into the body and their physiological effects.
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 was first used during World War I, when the Germans released (Apr., 1915) chlorine gas against the Allies. The Germans also introduced mustard gasmustard gas,
chemical compound used as a poison gas in World War I. The burning sensation it causes on contact with the skin is similar to that caused by oil from black mustard seeds.
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 later in the war. Afterward, the major powers continued to stockpile gases for possible future use and several actually used it: the British in Afghanistan, the French and Spanish in Africa, the Italians in Ethiopia, and the Japanese in China. Lethal gases were not employed in combat during World War II, but the Germans did use gases for mass murder during the HolocaustHolocaust
, name given to the period of persecution and extermination of European Jews by Nazi Germany. Romani (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the disabled, and others were also victims of the Holocaust.
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. The Germans also invented and stockpiled the first nerve gas. It is odorless and colorless and attacks the body muscles, including the involuntary muscles. It is the most lethal and insidious weapon of chemical warfare. Since World War II, chemical weapons are known to have been used by Egypt in Yemen (during the 1962–67 civil war) and by Iraq against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War and against Kurdish rebels. Iraq threatened to use them in the First Persian Gulf WarPersian Gulf Wars,
two conflicts involving Iraq and U.S.-led coalitions in the late 20th and early 21st cent.

The First Persian Gulf War, also known as the Gulf War, Jan.–Feb.
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, but it is unclear whether their use was attempted or not. Syria was accused of using chemical weapons in the civil war that began in 2011; it denied the charges and accused rebels of using chemical weapons. An especially deadly attack in Aug., 2013, was linked by Western governments to the Syrian government. The subsequent threat of U.S. air strikes led Syria to agree to the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile, but a nerve gas attack later occurred in Apr., 2017, provoking a U.S. air strike. Syria has used chlorine gas as a weapon; the gas was not on the list of chemical weapons it had to declare. The Islamic StateIslamic State
(IS), Sunni Islamic militant group committed to the establishment of an Islamic caliphate that would unite Muslims in a transnational, strict-fundamentalist Islamic state.
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 also has been accused of using chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq.

Besides lethal gases, which attack the skin, blood, nervous, or respiratory system and require hospitalization of the victim, there are also nonlethal incapacitating agents, which, like tear gastear gas,
gas that causes temporary blindness through the excessive flow of tears resulting from irritation of the eyes. The gas is used in chemical warfare and as a means for dispersing mobs.
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, cause temporary physical disability. Such agents have often been employed in riot control, espionage, and warfare. Various forms of herbicidesherbicide
, chemical compound that kills plants or inhibits their normal growth. A herbicide in a particular formulation and application can be described as selective or nonselective.
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 and defoliants are also used to destroy crops or vegetation, as Agent OrangeAgent Orange,
herbicide used by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War to expose enemy guerrilla forces in forested areas. Agent Orange contains varying amounts of dioxin. Exposure to the defoliant has been linked with chemical acne, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease,
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 was used by the United States during the Vietnam War.

The potential effectiveness of chemical warfare is increasing with improved methods of dissemination, such as artillery shells, grenades, missiles, and aircraft and submarine spray guns. Some protection against chemical weapons is possible using suits, sealed vehicles, and shelters. Such countermeasures usually protect against nuclear falloutfallout,
minute particles of radioactive material produced by nuclear explosions (see atomic bomb; hydrogen bomb; Chernobyl) or by discharge from nuclear-power or atomic installations and scattered throughout the earth's atmosphere by winds and convection currents.
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 and biological warfarebiological warfare,
employment in war of microorganisms to injure or destroy people, animals, or crops; also called germ or bacteriological warfare. Limited attempts have been made in the past to spread disease among the enemy; e.g.
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 as well. Lethal chemical weapons are held by many nations and they continue to be used. The danger of the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons remains despite arms control because they are relatively easy to manufacture and deploy.

Efforts to control chemical and biological weapons began in the late 19th cent. The Geneva Protocol of 1925, which went into force in 1928, condemned the use of chemical weapons but did not ban the development and stockpiling of chemical weapons. The United States did not ratify the protocol until 1974. In 1990, with the end of the cold warcold war,
term used to describe the shifting struggle for power and prestige between the Western powers and the Communist bloc from the end of World War II until 1989. Of worldwide proportions, the conflict was tacit in the ideological differences between communism and
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, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to cut their arsenals by 80% in an effort to create a climate of change that would discourage smaller nations from stockpiling and using such lethal weapons. In 1993 a international treaty banning the production, stockpiling (both by 2007), and use of chemical weapons and calling for the establishment of an independent organization to verify compliance was adopted. The agreement, which became effective in 1997, has been signed and ratified by all but a handful of nations. The treaty is enforced by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical WeaponsOrganization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
(OPCW), international body (est. 1997) responsible for the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which aims at the destruction of all chemical weapons. The CWC was adopted in 1992 and came into force in 1997.
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. The alleged Iraqi retention, after the Persian Gulf War cease-fire, of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction was the main pretext for the 2003 U.S.-British invasion of Iraq.

Bibliography

See the ongoing Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), The Problems of Chemical and Biological Warfare (1971–); R. Harris and J. Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing (1982); E. M. Spiers, Chemical Warfare (1986); J. B. Tucker, War of Nerves (2006).

chemical warfare

[′kem·i·kəl ′wȯr‚fer]
(ordnance)
Originally, the employment of poison gases as antipersonnel agents; later expanded to include flame and incendiary warfare, smoke for screening or signaling purposes, and microorganisms (bacteria and their toxins, rickettsia, viruses) for the production of casualties or destruction of crops. Also known as chemical operations.
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