Can the Biological and
Toxin Weapons Convention
Poison has a long history of use in warfare; its use has been abhorred just as long. This revulsion began to be codified in the nineteenth century as part of a general move to prevent the worst excesses of increasingly industrialized warfare. The Lieber Code, drafted during the U. S. Civil War, has an article that states: “The use of poison in any manner, be it to poison wells, or food, or arms, is wholly excluded from modern warfare. He that uses it puts himself out of the pale of law and usages of war” (1).
The international declaration concerning the laws and customs of war, which was signed in Brussels in 1874, and the First and Second Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907 all reached conclusions about specific prohibitions on poison weapons. In the classic account CBW and the Laws of War, produced as part of a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute series in the 1970s, it was argued that the records of the Brussels Conference showed that “in 1874 the reference to poison and poisoned weapons was meant to include the spreading of disease on enemy territory” (2). This, the SIPRI account noted, was also reflected in the wording of the United States Army Manual of 1914, but nevertheless, both chemical and biological warfare were used during World War I.
Following that war, the Geneva Protocol of 1925 instituted what has become a customary international legal prohibition on the use of chemical weapons and, as a result of the intervention of the Polish delegate, on the use of biological weapons as well. The ban embodied in the protocol is extremely general and sweeping.
Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating,
Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.
Signed at Geneva on 19th June 1925.
The Undersigned Plenipotentiaries, in the name of their respective Governments,