The Chemical Weapons Convention and Riot Control Agents: Advantages of a "Methods" Approach to Arms Control

By Kastan, Benjamin | Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

The Chemical Weapons Convention and Riot Control Agents: Advantages of a "Methods" Approach to Arms Control


Kastan, Benjamin, Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law


INTRODUCTION

Breathing through chemical smoke has been described as "drowning on dry land." (1) When one imagines chemical weapons, one often imagines that indelible image of Doughboys choking in trenches through a fog of yellow mustard gas. Though World War I did not see the first use of chemical weapons, it did produce the first large-scale industrialized chemical warfare. The effects of this kind of warfare live on in the conventions and taboos associated with chemical weapons. In 1993, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC) was signed and later ratified by the U.S. and 187 other states. (2) The history of the legal regime surrounding chemical weapons (CW) reflects the long-term trend of banning weapons systems and technologies that are considered inhumane or undesirable. However, these legal regimes often have difficulty keeping up with the pace of technology and sometimes restrict the use of potentially more humanitarian weapons systems. One such example is the development of non-lethal weapons (NLW). (3) The CWC provides some leeway in this regard by allowing for the use of one type of non-lethal chemical weapons, Riot Control Agents (RCAs), in law enforcement.

The debate over RCAs mirrors in large part the debate over weapons conventions generally. Some military officials have advocated getting rid of weapons conventions in favor of internal reviews. (4) The most prominent example of this view can be found in the writing of General John Alexander, former Commander of the Joint Non-lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD). He argues that these conventions are fundamentally flawed because they focus on the technology rather than undesired results. (5) Advocates of the weapons conventions counter that so-called NLW are not so non-lethal. (6) They further contend that non-lethal chemical weapons, including RCAs, are dangerous to use on the battlefield because they are "threshold weapon[s]," which may lead to faster escalation to more lethal chemical weapons. (7)

This note will analyze how the CWC affects how the U.S. may use RCAs in a war zone and compares the result to that from a more basic review guided by the principles of the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC)--a review grounded in the methods, rather than the means of warfare. I apply these rules to hypotheticals drawn from real world examples, and argue that the most significant differences between the means-based CWC approach and the methods-based LOAC approach are in the weapons available for use against combatants, not the impact on civilians. Nevertheless, I do not advocate withdrawal of the U.S. from the CWC regime because history suggests that using chemical NLW on the battlefield may make war no more humane than before. However, the example of RCAs within the means-based CWC regime demonstrates the limitations and the unintended consequences of an arms control regime focused on the "means" of warfare. A more basic LOAC approach that focuses on the methods of warfare, rather than the means, may better balance the humanitarian interests than flat weapons bans. Thus, I conclude that the U.S. should consider pursuing (1) new treaties to focus and elaborate on the rules governing methods of warfare rather than the means and (2) stronger internal reviews of new weapons systems around the world. By using widely-accepted standards, the international humanitarian system may prove better able to adapt to ever-changing technological realities.

I. THE HISTORY OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS AND RCAS

Chemical weapons have, for at least the last century, been viewed as a dishonorable and offensive kind of weapon. (8) However, chemical weapons of some sort have been part of warfare as far back as Thucydides, when "the Peloponnesians ... tried to reduce the town of Plataea with sulphur fumes in the fifth century BC." (9) The first international agreement aimed at restricting their use took place at the Hague Conference of 1899, where certain attendees agreed "to abstain from the use of projectiles the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gas. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Chemical Weapons Convention and Riot Control Agents: Advantages of a "Methods" Approach to Arms Control
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.