Fighting Chemical Weapons

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Chemical weapons are weapons of mass destruction which include toxic chemical products (and their components), munitions and systems designed to spread these chemical products, as well as the equipment specifically designed for use of these munitions and systems.

The use of chemicals as a significant weapon of war began during the First World War at Ypres on 22 April 1915, the first large-scale attack using chlorine gas. In total, chemical weapons killed 90,000 people during the First World War.
More recently, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran in the 1980s, and against its Kurdish population in Halabja.

The sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 also demonstrated that non-State movements and groups employing terrorist methods were capable of using chemical weapons against the civilian population.

The repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria, particularly since 2013, has disrupted the chemical non-proliferation regime and been a focal point for debate in specialist international forums. This subject received many reactions from the international community, which adopted new measures in order to take action against these attacks and the impunity of those that ordered them, particularly within the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The fact that chemical weapons are easy to make (compared to other weapons of mass destruction) compounded with the diversity of potential delivery systems and memories of the consequences of their use partially explains why the international community sought a way to protect itself in 1993 with a specific convention of unparalleled force.

Fighting the proliferation of chemical weapons and the recent re-emergence of their use in Syria, the United Kingdom (the Skripal case) and Malaysia (with the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam) is a priority for France.

Long-term political commitment from France

France has long been engaged in the fight against chemical weapons and will continue to do so over the long term.
It is the depositary of the 1925 Protocol on the Prohibition of the Use in War of Chemical and Bacteriological weapons. In 1996, France removed the reserves it had appended to the Protocol at the time of ratifying on the possible use of such weapons in reprisal. It also revitalized negotiations of the Conference on Disarmament in 1989, which resulted in the signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention in Paris on 15 January 1993.

The CWC: a unique and preferred instrument for complete prohibition

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), signed in Paris in 1993, is in fact the only international Convention that provides for the complete eradication of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction, coupled with a binding verification system. It entered into force in 1997 and helps to fight the chemical risk in all its forms.

Even though four States are yet to ratify the Convention, France wishes for it to be implemented universally because too few States Parties have transposed all of the CWC provisions into their domestic legislation.

France ratified the Convention in 1995 and fully complies with its commitments:
• transposition of the CWC in French legislation;
• welcoming of a dozen OPCW inspections on French territory every year;
• implementation in 2016 of the SECOIA (FR) Programme (Site d’Élimination de Chargements d’Objets Identifiés Anciens) to destroy the approximately 20 tonnes of chemical munitions from the First World War that are discovered every year in France.

The verification regime provided for by the CWC

The OPCW, created by the CWC, ensures that the States Parties comply with the commitments made under the Convention. France’s commitment to fighting chemical weapons is reflected in the excellent cooperation with the OPCW on both an institutional and operational level. French policy is implemented, in the framework of the OPCW, through simultaneous action on disarmament, that is to say the destruction of existing chemical weapons, and on combating their proliferation. Only a strengthening of the verification regime could ensure that chemical weapons do not re-emerge once the chemical weapon disarmament process is fully completed. France also decided to contribute 1.2 million euros over three years to the fund for the OPCW’s new Centre for Chemistry and Technology. This contribution was formalized on 7 March 2019 by Philippe Lalliot, at the time Ambassador of France and permanent representative to the OPCW, during a meeting with Director-General Fernando Arias.

The use of these weapons should not be downplayed, nor should their prohibition be questioned and it is important to protect the international peace and security architecture. This is why, in January 2018, France launched the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. This Partnership, which brings together 40 States and the European Union, fights the impunity of those involved in the proliferation and use of chemical weapons. The Partnership is a voluntary association of States whose aim is to denounce and facilitate prosecution of those involved in developing or using chemical weapons.

One of the Partnerships’ means of action is blacklisting individuals and entities identified as being involved in the use of chemical weapons and toxic substances, or having contributed to the development of chemical programmes and having received sanctions.

The third experts meeting will be held in Paris in November 2019. It will focus on prosecution and administrative sanctioning relating to the new capacities implemented at the OPCW regarding the attribution of cases of chemical weapons use in Syria (decision of June 2018).

What is being done?

In late June 2019, and ahead of the experts meeting which will be held in November in Paris, France organized, together with the United States, the “Storm Justice” exercise in order to put the focus on the best practices to use in simulations of a terrorist attack involving chemical weapons. The exercise focused on investigation and prosecution means, as well as coordination between States.

France also actively participates in bolstering export control of civil and military dual-use goods in the European Union and internationally (The Australia Group).
In parallel, France ensures that it has the means to defend itself against the consequences of a chemical attack by studying protective measures against such weapons and their effects, so as to ensure the health and safety of the civilian population and its armed forces.

World map of chemical and biological disarmament and non-proliferation

Carte du désarmement et de la non-prolifération chimique et biologique dans le monde au 3 décembre 2019 {PDF}

Updated: October 2019

Find out more:

Official website of the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
The text of the Chemical Weapons Convention