Biological and Chemical Weapons


college of the canyons chemical and biological weaponsAccording to the United Nations biological weapons are complex systems that disseminate disease-causing organisms or toxins to harm or kill humans, animals or plants.  They generally comprise two parts, an agent and a delivery device. Almost any disease-causing organism (such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, prions or rickettsiae) or toxin (poisons derived from animals, plants or microorganisms, or similar substances produced synthetically) can be used in biological weapons. In addition to concerns that biological weapons could be developed or used by states, recent technological advances increase the likelihood that these weapons could be acquired or produced by non-state actors, including individuals and terrorist organizations. The 20th century saw the use of biological weapons by individuals and groups committing criminal acts or targeted assassinations, biological warfare conducted by states, and the accidental release of pathogens from laboratories. There were also several false accusations of biological weapons use, highlighting the difficulty in differentiating between naturally-occuring disease, accidents, and deliberate use.

Chemical weapons use the toxic properties of chemical substances rather than their explosive properties to produce physical or physiological effects on an enemy. Although instances of what might be styled as chemical weapons can be traced back to antiquity, the modern use of chemical weapons began with World War I, when both sides to the conflict used poisonous gas to inflict agonizing suffering and to cause significant battlefield casualties. Such weapons basically consisted of well known commercial chemicals put into standard munitions such as grenades and artillery shells. Chlorine, phosgene (a choking agent) and mustard gas (which inflicts painful burns on the skin) were among the chemicals used.


The first Convention that covers the use of biological and chemical weapons is the Geneva Protocol (also known as the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare), which was signed in 1925. This Protocol bans the use, but not the production, stockpiling, or deployment, of such weapons.Further legal instruments followed in the form of Conventions adopted by States in 1972 and 1993.

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction,  known as the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC, 1972) is the result of prolonged efforts by the international community to establish a new instrument that would supplement the 1925 Geneva Protocol. The BWC currently has 170 States Parties. The BWC effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons.

The 1977 ENMOD Convention (Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques) prohibits using the environment as a weapon in conflicts. Its Article I  prohibits the Contracting Parties from engaging in “military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party”.

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, known als the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC, 1993)  aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by States Parties. On 14 October 2013, the CWC entered into force for the Syrian Arab Republic, making it the 190th State Party to the treaty.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research on Biological and Chemical Weapons. It provides the basic legal materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library’s systematic code 205. Unlawful means of warfare and subject heading (keyword) Biological and Chemical Weapons are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.


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