Eli5: Why are chemical weapons banned?

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In war is ok to kill people but not kill them too much?

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8 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Chemical weapons have zero discriminations between combatants and non-combatants. You can argue that soldiers will kill non-combatants of course, but they at least have the ability to decide.

If you just drop a bunch of chemicals on an area, you’re not even attempting to avoid the non-combatants.

Chemical weapons also prevent your own army from existing in the area, sometimes for long periods after the use.

Furthermore, if people propagate chemical weapons, they can be extremely dangerous even in small quantities which means they could fall into the wrong hands easily.

They’re just all around too risky and dangerous to use.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I mean, you’re basically asking why designate things as war crimes. Murder carries a higher crime than sexual assault, yet killing in war is ok, but having sex with them instead is a war crime?

Well. Yes. It actually is for a very good reason. It comes down to who you’re targeting. Militaries are often expected to be fighting enemy combatants or blowing up strategic objectives.

It goes to another level when you aren’t fighting the opposing military and you start fighting the civilians in the area.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There are a few reasons. But one important reason is the desire to make death less gruesome (yes, that sounds odd, I know). Take VX gas for example. It causes the nervous system to break down, paralysis, and death by asphyxiation. That’s a pretty bad way to go compared to a bullet to the head or getting blown up.

Anonymous 0 Comments

They’re inhuman, cruel and don’t do any difference between civils, soldiers or medics. And as it have been decided between countries (not all) that killing civilians or blocking medics access is a warcrime, chemical weapon are banned. Also war does not escape from social codes. It also put penalties to the use of those, which have a political, eventually economical, cost.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There are a few reasons. But one important reason is the desire to make death less gruesome (yes, that sounds odd, I know). Take VX gas for example. It causes the nervous system to break down, paralysis, and death by asphyxiation. That’s a pretty bad way to go compared to a bullet to the head or getting blown up.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Basically, we think it’s icky and thus mostly agreed to not do it.

There’s many weapons banned by various international treaties. Exploding bullets, expanding bullets (hollowpoints), landmines, poison (banned before chemical warfare), chemical/biological weapons, weapons that produce fragments that can’t be seen on an x-ray (making it difficult to treat the wounded), cluster munitions, etc.

Some of these are banned because we think they’re “too much”, like the earliest one was exploding bullets (fired from a rifle, not artillery), they were banned by the Declaration of Saint Petersburg (1868).

They were banned because they produced *really* nasty wounds that doctors had difficult treating, and public opinion sufficiently turned against the idea to allow for an international treaty to be made. Similarly, chemical weapons often have really nasty effects. People are OK with shooting each other, but not OK with the idea of being gassed and dealing with the after-effects, so they banned it.

Some things are banned because they have a significant effect on civilian populations, both during and after a war. Landmines and cluster munitions are the best examples of these, although chemical weapons do also factor in here (especially so called “persistent” agents that linger a long time).

Some of this seems arbitrary, like why is it OK to kill someone one way but not another? And it sort of is, but a lot of it boils down to public opinion and what’s “humane” according to our culture.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Look at it from the reverse perspective:

People who were perfectly comfortable with industrial artillery war and mass unwarranted death during WW1 have seen the horrors chemical warfare and unanimously decided “no, never again”. That’s how horrific chemical weapons can be. 

Of course then other people decided to forget these lessons, then re-learn them all over again. Or pretend there’s no consequences (*cough cough* agent orange)

And it’s not for any one reason, they’re just horrific all around.

They’re indiscriminate. You can’t really “aim” a chemical weapon. This is especially bad if civilians are involved. But even if it’s purely military…

They’re often persistent. Many chemical agents stay in the soil, ground water etc. So even after a conflict ends, the very land will be poisoned for potentially decades or centuries. Not to mention any unexploded duds still hiding.

They’re particularly cruel. Yes, so is being maimed by a high explosive shell. But chemical weapons usually cause immense suffering before killing someone. So you might suffer from a conventional weapon before dying, but you will suffer from chemical weapons. I guess the most… “humane”? of those are nerve agents, because they don’t melt your flesh and just paralyse you, but it’s still a nasty way to die.

Finally… They’re not even necessarily lethal. Congratulations, you potentially get to suffer the absolutely gruesome consequences for the rest of your natural life! That’s the part that particularly horrified everyone after WW1, seeing survivors of chemical warfare come home, destroyed in body and mind. More so than regular combat injuries, that’s how horrific they were.

Anonymous 0 Comments

They’re indiscriminate. They kill/harm everything on the deployed area: Soldiers, Civilians, your men, the enemy, your allies, Neutrals, humans, animals … you got the idea.

Also some weapons can polute a region for decades after its release, making vast areas uninhabitable way after the signing of any peace deal.

Lastly, they’re very likely to backfire.

So they cause too much damage and suffering for little tatical gain. This is so f up that many countries agreed to not use it.