Chemical Weapons

July 11, 1986

Report Outline
Buildup vs. Control
The Legacy of Ypres
Deadly New Terrors
Special Focus

Buildup vs. Control

Prospects for Control Treaty with Russia

For the first time in years, arms-control experts are holding out cautious hope that an effective international agreement can be worked out to rid the planet of chemical weapons. At their Geneva summit meeting last November, President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev agreed to intensify the efforts of their two countries to establish the framework for a worldwide chemical weapons treaty, which negotiators have been discussing for nearly two decades. There is informed speculation that despite formidable technical obstacles, the two leaders may decide to push through an agreement. According to this line of thinking, a chemical warfare agreement would prevent them From coming away empty-handed at a follow-up summit, possibly later this year, in the event they cannot break the continuing deadlock over a nuclear arms control treaty.

If the United States, the Soviet Union and the other members of the 40-nation disarmament conference currently meeting in Geneva cannot reach an agreement, however, the outlook for restricting or outlawing chemical weapons is bleak. The specter raised by chemical weapons in World War I seemed to vanish when they were not used in World War II, but it is returning. Modern chemical weapons are far more lethal than the gases used in World War I; a tiny drop of some substances on the skin can produce a rapid, agonizing death. Together with agents of biological warfare, they are capable of rendering battlefields and vast surrounding areas almost unimaginably deadly for both soldiers and civilians. “American service members are more likely to be attacked with chemical weapons today than at any time since World War I,” the Pentagon's top chemical-warfare specialist said recently.

While the superpowers consider a new treaty, they continue to maintain formidable chemical arsenals. The Russians, who suffered terribly from chemical weapons in World War I, have developed a large array of munitions filled with lethal compounds, U.S. intelligence reports that the Soviet army trains intensively for fighting in a chemical environment, and apparently ently has made extensive use of chemical weapons against anti-communist guerrillas in Afghanistan.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Jul. 29, 2016  Modernizing the Nuclear Arsenal
Mar. 08, 2002  Weapons of Mass Destruction
Jan. 31, 1997  Chemical and Biological Weapons
Jun. 24, 1994  Nuclear Arms Cleanup
Jun. 05, 1992  Nuclear Proliferation
Jun. 29, 1990  Obstacles to Bio-Chemical Disarmament
Apr. 22, 1988  The Military Build-Down in the 1990s
May 24, 1987  Euromissile Negotiations
Jul. 11, 1986  Chemical Weapons
Apr. 27, 1984  Reagan's Defense Buildup
Jun. 04, 1982  Civil Defense
Jul. 17, 1981  Controlling Nuclear Proliferation
Jun. 05, 1981  MX Missile Decision
Aug. 15, 1980  The Neutron Bomb and European Defense
Sep. 07, 1979  Atomic Secrecy
Mar. 17, 1978  Nuclear Proliferation
May 27, 1977  Chemical-Biological Warfare
May 13, 1977  Politics of Strategic Arms Negotiations
Nov. 15, 1974  Nuclear Safeguards
Jul. 01, 1970  Nuclear Balance of Terror: 25 Years After Alamogordo
Jun. 18, 1969  Chemical–Biological Weaponry
Jun. 30, 1965  Atomic Proliferation
Mar. 21, 1962  Nuclear Testing Dilemmas
Aug. 16, 1961  Shelters and Survival
Oct. 12, 1959  Chemical-Biological Warfare
May 13, 1959  Nuclear Test Ban
Dec. 04, 1957  Scientific Cooperation and Atlantic Security
May 15, 1957  Changing Defense Concepts
Jul. 03, 1956  Civil Defense, 1956
Nov. 16, 1955  International Arms Deals
Oct. 04, 1954  Industrial Defense
Apr. 15, 1954  National Defense Strategy
Feb. 10, 1954  New Aproaches to Atomic Control
Oct. 10, 1953  Atomic Information
Apr. 11, 1952  Biological Warfare
Oct. 03, 1951  World Arms Race
Feb. 04, 1948  International Control of Atomic Energy
Dec. 06, 1946  International Inspection
Aug. 27, 1943  Gas Warfare
Jul. 24, 1937  The New Race in Armaments
May 05, 1932  Abolition of Aggressive Weapons
Arms Control and Disarmament
Veterans' Services
War and Conflict