‘Non-Lethal’ CBW

An analysis of challenges to the regime against weaponization of disease presented by disabling CBW weapons. Contributing HSP researchers were Daniel Feakes, Caitríona McLeish, Matthew Meselson and Julian Perry Robinson.


This study, which has been in preparation for several years, is intended to yield a monograph that will provide information and analysis to policy-shaping communities in order to bolster the prohibition set forth in the Chemical Weapons Convention against the development, production, transfer and use of toxic chemicals for purposes which the Convention does not permit.

Now endangering the prohibition is a potentially corrosive confusion about the strictures which the Convention places on disabling chemicals. The CWC permits toxic chemicals (a category that includes all disabling chemicals) to be used only for peaceful purposes. Among these peaceful purposes, the CWC expressly includes law enforcement. So police forces may use tear-gas weapons against domestic rioters, but any use of those same weapons in warfare against enemy combatants is forbidden.

There is much room for confusion because it is not only the chemicals that can thus be of dual use but also the weapons themselves. For example, the first chemical-warfare weapons to be used during the Great War of 1914-18 were apparently French police-issue hand-grenades and rifle-cartridges charged with the tear-gas ethyl bromoacetate. Further, there is the largely erroneous but widely held belief that use of disabling chemicals makes war more humane. This belief could lead some states parties into misinterpretation of the Convention, even tempt them into violation of it. The monograph will seek to clarify the confusion, explain its dangers, and propose a remedy.


1. Introduction: The problem which tear gas and other disabling chemicals pose for chemical disarmament.

2. Applications of disabling chemicals in law enforcement and in warfare
2.1 An historical account of weapons applications of disabling chemicals by police and military forces, to include description of currently discernible trends in concepts for disabling chemical weapons.
2.2 Evaluation of current concepts for use of non-lethal weapons technology in law enforcement, peace-keeping and warfare.
2.3 On disabling chemicals as armament for UN peace-keeping forces.

3. Present and foreseeable development of disabling chemical weapons
3.1 Review of current receptor / agonist research salient to disabling weapons.
3.2 Recent trends in the worldwide spread of disabling chemical weapons for use in operations other than war.

4. Status of disabling chemical weapons in international law prior to the Chemical Weapons Convention

5. The restrictions placed on disabling chemicals by the Chemical Weapons Convention
5.1 The applicable provisions [including those on destruction of disabling chemical weapons and production facilities for them, and on disclosure of development and test facilities].
5.2 Negotiating history of the key provisions [viz the General Purpose Criterion and its associated definitions, including “toxic chemical”, “riot control agent” and, embracing “law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes”, “purposes not prohibited”; the ban on use of riot-control agents as a method of warfare; and the obligation to declare riot-control agents].

6. Implementing the applicable provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention
6.1 Preparatory work by the OPCW Preparatory Commission [as in Section K of the Declarations Handbook].
6.2 What the OPCW has been doing [including receiving Section K declarations and seeking clarifications on certain of them; and including also the SAB/TWG on adamsite].

7. Case studies
7.1 USA: Chemical weapons and the idea of humane warfare [the evolution of US policy and practice on disabling chemical weapons since 1917, to include consideration of the Mayaguez affair, Grenada, Panama, Waco, Desert Storm and the 2003 Iraq war, as well as the RDT&E and acquisition programs].
7.2 USA: the Vietnam War.
7.3 UK: Policy and practice on disabling chemical weapons [including use-policy on BBC during WW2, the CS decision of 1970 and its present status, military experience with CS in Ulster, and military views on the role of disabling chemical weapons in peace-keeping operations].
7.4 UK: The pharmaceutical industry and candidate agent TL2636.
7.5 Yugoslavia, Past and Present: Its disabling chemical weapons program, and the use of CS and BZ weapons in the wars of disintegration.
7.6 South Africa: Disabling chemicals in Project Coast and associated activities.
7.7 Iraq: UNSCOM, UNMOVIC and ISG findings regarding CS and other disabling chemical weapons [and including an account of CS use during the Iraq-Iran war].
7.8 Japan: Prospects for the disabling and other chemical weapons abandoned in China.
7.9 Russia: Policy and practice on disabling chemicals as counter-terrorist weapons.

8. Practical guidelines for differentiating law enforcement and warfare

‹‹ Back