Chemical Weapons

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Related to Chemical Weapons: Chemical Weapons Convention, Biological weapons
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Chemical Weapons


toxic chemical agents and the means for using them in combat, including rockets, artillery shells, mortar shells, aerial bombs, chemical land mines, chemical hand grenades, and toxic-smoke pots.

The casualty effect of chemical weapons is due to the toxic qualities of chemical compounds that, in the form of a vapor, liquid, or aerosol, can penetrate the body through the respiratory tract, skin, mucous membranes, or digestive tract. They are classified as weapons of mass destruction. Designed to destroy personnel, they can also be used to contaminate the terrain, armament, combat matériel, and various rear support facilities.

Chemical weapons possess a number of characteristics that distinguish them from other kinds of weapons. Toxic chemical agents can spread in the air over a considerable area, penetrate unprotected shelters and buildings, and infiltrate into tanks and other combat vehicles. Unstable substances maintain their potency for several dozen minutes, stables ones for days. The effectiveness of chemical weapons depends to a large extent on the meteorological conditions and the nature of the terrain. For example, when there is a wind, contaminated air can travel long distances and affect personnel outside the immediate area of the chemical attack. Chemicals designed to destroy vegetation, such as herbicides and defoliants, may be classified as chemical weapons.

A chemical weapon, chlorine, was used for the first time during World War I near the city of Ypres, Belgium, by German troops on Apr. 22, 1915. During the war, toxic chemical agents were widely used by other armies as well. The use of chemical weapons was prohibited by the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which was ratified by many states, including the USSR. However, the protocol was broken by several states; for example, Italy used chemical weapons in its war against Ethiopia in 1935–36. During World War II, fascist Germany made large-scale preparations for chemical warfare. By 1943 the annual output of its chemical industry had reached 180,000 tons of toxic chemical agents. However, it did not dare use such weapons for fear of a counterstrike. The Soviet Union has always decisively opposed the use of chemical weapons.

After the war, in spite of the prohibition against chemical weapons, the capitalist countries stockpiled highly toxic chemical agents that greatly exceeded the toxicity of the materials used in World War I. The USA used chemical warfare in Vietnam.

The armed forces of the countries of the aggressive NATO bloc maintain chemical weapons among their armaments and continue developing them. Certain foreign military theoreticians consider chemical warfare more effective in certain situations than nuclear warfare, because it can kill personnel without great material destruction and the weapons used are relatively inexpensive.

The threat of chemical weapons makes it imperative to prepare effective protection measures for both troops and the civilian population.


Stepanov, A. A. “Otravliaiushchie veshchestva.” Zhurnal Vsesoiuznogo khimicheskogo obshchestva im. D. I. Mendeleeva, vol. 13, issue 6. Moscow, 1968.
U Thant. Khimicheskoe i bakteriologicheskoe (biologicheskoe) oruzhie i posledstviia ego vozmozhnogo primeneniia. [Report to the 24th session of the UN General Assembly.] Moscow, 1970.
Efimov, P. “Khimicheskoe oruzhie vooruzhennykh sil SShA.” Zarubezhnoe voennoe obozrenie, no. 1, 1976.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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