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The Syrian government's use of nerve gas on rebel-controlled Damascus neighborhoods this summer focused renewed attention on the threat posed by chemical and biological weapons. The attacks, which killed up to about 1,400, led President Obama to threaten military retaliation. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responded by agreeing to destroy his chemical arsenal. Chemical weapons have been outlawed since 1928, after the world saw the horrors of their effect in World War I. After Iraq used chemical weapons to kill tens of thousands of Iranians and Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s, a 1993 international accord strengthened enforcement of the ban. The Syrian gas attacks have spurred debate over whether chemical weapons are worse than conventional arms. Meanwhile, biological weapons also are outlawed, but some experts fear they could be used by terrorists.
President Assad agreed to destroy his chemical weapons.
Several other nations have agreed to destroy their chemical weapons.
The United States has several programs to protect against biological attacks.
|1915–1925||Widespread use of poison gas during World War I leads to growing revulsion toward chemical weapons.|
|1940–1945||Major powers build up their chemical arsenals, but the prohibition against chemical weapons largely holds on World War II battlefields.|
|1947–1972||As the Cold War heats up, the United States and the Soviet Union build chemical and biological arsenals.|
|1983–1993||Iraq defies prohibition on chemical weapons without consequences. New international treaty seeks to eliminate chemical weapons.|
|2001-Present||Concerns raised by 9/11 terrorist attacks on United States give new urgency to efforts to control and defend against chemical and biological weapons.|
Does use of chemical weapons warrant military intervention?
Senior Policy Analyst, Foreign Policy Initiative.
Political Scientist, Ohio State University; Senior fellow, Cato Institute; Author, Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda.