General Studies IIISecurity

Chemical and Biological Weapons Convention


Recently, the US said that Russia could be planning a chemical or biological weapons attack in Ukraine.

Chemical Weapons

  • Definition
    • A common conception of a CW is of a toxic chemical contained in a delivery system such as a bomb or artillery shell. While technically correct, a definition based on this conception would only cover a small portion of the range of things the CWC prohibits as ‘chemical weapons’.
    • Toxic Chemicals and their Precursors
      • Toxic chemicals are defined as ‘any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals’.
      • This includes all such chemicals, regardless of their origin or of their method of production, and regardless of whether they are produced in facilities, in munitions or elsewhere.
      • Precursors are chemicals that are used for the production of toxic chemicals.
    • Munitions or Devices
      • Any munitions or devices specifically designed to inflict harm or cause death through the release of toxic chemicals.
      • Among these could be mortars, artillery shells, missiles, bombs, mines or spray tanks.
    • Equipment ‘Directly in Connection’
      • Any equipment specifically designed for use ‘directly in connection’ with the employment of the munitions and devices identified as chemical weapons.
    • Under the CWC, the definition of a CW includes all toxic chemicals and their precursors, except when used for purposes permitted by the Convention, in quantities consistent with such a purpose.
  • Examples of CWs include, but are not limited to
    • Fully developed CWs and the components of such weapons when stored separately (e.g. binary munitions).
    • Chemicals used to produce CWs (precursors).
    • Chemicals used to cause intentional death or harm.
    • Items with peaceful civilian uses, when used or intended for CWs use (dual-use items).
      • Dual-use describes chemicals or equipment that can be used for peaceful civilian and commercial purposes, but can also be used in the creation of weapons or as weapons.
    • Munitions and devices intended for the delivery of toxic chemicals.
    • Equipment directly in connection with the aforementioned munitions and devices.
  • Schedules of Chemicals
    • There are three Schedules that list toxic chemicals and their precursors.
    • For the purpose of implementing this Convention, these Schedules identify chemicals for the application of verification measures.
  • Toxins
    • Toxins are toxic chemicals produced by living organisms.
    • These are considered as both chemical and biological weapons when used in violation of the Convention.
    • The development, production and stockpiling of toxins for purposes of warfare are prohibited under the CWC.
      • Toxins are covered by the CWC because they are chemicals that can have chemical weapons applications, and fall under the definitions listed above for chemical weapons and toxic chemicals.
    • Synthetic Toxins: It is possible to synthesize many types of toxins in laboratories without harvesting the organisms that produce them in nature.
    • There are two toxins explicitly listed in Schedule 1, these are ricin (produced in nature in the seeds of the castor bean plant) and saxitoxin (produced in nature by cyanobacteria).
  • Old and Abandoned CWs
    • Old CWs fall into two categories, namely CWs produced before 1925 and CWs produced between 1925 and 1946 ‘that have deteriorated to such an extent that they can no longer be used as chemical weapons’.
    • Abandoned CWs are chemical weapons, including old CWs, abandoned by a State after 1st January 1925 on the territory of another State without the consent of the latter.
  • Types of Chemical Agents
    • Choking Agents
      • Inflicting injury mainly on the respiratory tract, choking agents irritate the nose, throat, and especially the lungs.
      • When inhaled, these agents cause alveoli, air sacs in the lungs, to secrete fluid, essentially drowning those affected.
      • Examples: Chlorine, Chloropicrin, Diphosgene and Phosgene.
    • Blister Agents
      • One of the most common CW agents, these oily substances act via inhalation and contact, affecting the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin, first as an irritant and then as a cell poison.
      • Exposure to blister agents causes large and often life-threatening skin blisters which resemble severe burns, and often results in blindness and permanent damage to the respiratory system.
      • Although casualties are high, deaths represent a small percentage.
      • Examples: Sulfur mustard, Nitrogen mustard, Lewisite and Phosgene oxime.
    • Blood Agents
      • These agents mainly inhibit the ability of cells to use oxygen, effectively causing the body to suffocate.
      • Some blood agents may also affect the ability of blood cells to transfer oxygen.
      • Blood agents are distributed via the blood and generally enter the body through inhalation.
      • Examples: Hydrogen cyanide, Cyanogen chloride and Arsine.
    • Nerve Agents
      • Nerve agents block an enzyme called Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) in the nervous system.
      • This causes the accumulation of a neurotransmitter between nerve cells or across synapses leading to hyper-stimulation of muscles, glands and other nerves.
      • Nerve agents are highly toxic with rapid effects and act primarily by absorption through the skin and lungs.
      • Examples: Tabun, Sarin, Soman and Cyclosarin.
    • Riot Control Agents
      • Riot control agents are intended to temporarily incapacitate a person by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin.
      • Riot control agents, such as tear gas, are considered CWs if used as a method of warfare.
      • States can legitimately possess riot control agents and use them for domestic law enforcement purposes, but states that are members of the CWC must declare what type of riot agents they possess.
      • Examples: Tear Gas and Pepper Spray.

About Chemical Weapons Convention

  • It is a multilateral treaty that bans chemical weapons and requires their destruction within a specified period of time.
  • It is of unlimited duration and is far more comprehensive than the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which outlaws the use but not the possession of chemical weapons.
  • The CWC negotiations started in 1980 in the UN Conference on Disarmament. 
    • The convention opened for signature on January 13, 1993, and entered into force on April 29, 1997.
  • It is implemented by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
  • It is open to all nations and currently has 193 states-parties.
    • Israel has signed but has yet to ratify the convention.
    • Three states have neither signed nor ratified the convention (Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan).

What are the prohibitions under Chemical Weapons Convention?

  • The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits:
    • Developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons;
    • The direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons;
    • Chemical weapons use or military preparation for use;
    • Assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to engage in CWC-prohibited activity; and
    • The use of riot control agents “as a method of warfare”

Declaration Requirements under Chemical Weapons Convention

  • It requires states-parties to declare in writing to the OPCW their chemical weapons stockpiles, chemical weapons production facilities (CWPFs), relevant chemical industry facilities, and other weapons-related information.
  • It must be done within 30 days of the convention’s entry into force for each member state.

Penalties for Non-compliance under Chemical Weapons Convention

  • The OPCW could recommend collective punitive measures to other states-parties.
  • The OPCW could bring the issue before the UN Security Council and General Assembly.
  • The states-parties must take measures to address questions raised about their compliance with the CWC.

India and Chemical Weapons Convention

  • India is a signatory and party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
  • India signed the treaty at Paris on 14th day of January 1993.
  • India was the First State Party to secure the distinction of chemical weapon free state Party by destructing all its stockpile of its chemical weapons amongst all State Parties of the Convention.

What is a Biological Weapon?

  • About:
    • Biological weapons use microbiological agents (such as bacteria, viruses or fungi) or toxins to intentionally cause death or harm to humans, animals, or plants.

What is the Deadliest Biological weapon?

Some of the deadliest biological weapons that have been used are listed below.


Anthrax was caused by bacteria named Bacillus Anthracis. It is one of the deadliest agents to be used as a biological weapon. It has been used with food, water, spray, powders. It is completely tasteless and odourless.

Botulinum Toxin

It is caused by naturally found bacteria named Clostridium Botulinum. It can be used by contaminating food and water. It was known to be used by Japan on Prisoners of War (POW) during the occupation of Manchuria.

Francisella Tularensis

As per a former Soviet Union scientist, this was used as a biological weapon against the Nazi Army of Germany by the Soviet Union Army in the Battle of Stalingrad of World War II.


Iraq had produced and deployed different weapons armed with Aflatoxin. It was noted by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in 1995. However, it was destroyed during the Gulf War.

How is Bioterrorism More Dangerous Compared to Other Forms of Terrorism?

Bioterrorism is dangerous because:

  1. Biological agents are attractive tools of terrorism as they are relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain.
  2. The virus can be easily disseminated.
  3. It can cause widespread fear and panic beyond the actual physical damage it can cause.
  4. The risk of massive destruction of life is too high.
  5. They can be used in very minute quantities but the effects are life-risking.
  6. Their presence can’t be detected faster as they take time to develop and cause widespread and disastrous spread.

What are the Types of Bioterrorism Agents?

There are 3 types of agents used based on the ability and extent of damage that can be caused. They are:

  1. Category A: High-priority agents. Example: Anthrax, Ebola virus.
  2. Category B: Moderate-priority agents. Example: Brucellosis, Q fever
  3. Category C: Low-priority agents. Example: Yellow fever virus, Hantavirus.

What is the Biological Weapons Convention?

  • About:
    • It is a key element in the international community’s efforts to address Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferation and it has established a strong norm against biological weapons.
      • WMD is a weapon with the capacity to inflict death and destruction on such a massive scale and so indiscriminately that its very presence in the hands of a hostile power can be considered a grievous threat.
    • Formally known as “The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction”, the Convention was negotiated by the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland.
    • It opened for signature on 10th April 1972 and entered into force on 26th March 1975.
  • Members:
    • 183 States Parties and 4 Signatory States.
    • India is a signatory of the convention.
  • Convention Prohibits:
    • It effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons.
    • It was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

Source: The Hindu

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