Disarmament: A Basic Guide

First Edition

image of Disarmament: A Basic Guide

International peace and security - and therefore disarmament - stand at the core of the UN mandate. This publication is designed to inform, educate and generate public understanding of the importance of multilateral action, and to rally support for it, in the field of arms limitation and disarmament. Intended primarily for the general reader, this basic guide may also be useful for the disarmament educator or trainer. It is published by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs in collaboration with the NGO (non-governmental organizations) Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security pursuant to the purposes of the United Nations Disarmament Information Programme.



Chemical weapons

Chemical warfare is not unique to the human species, nor is it a recent development in history: as early as 431 B.C. the armies of Sparta used burning sulphur around the walls of besieged cities to disable the defenders. Modern use of chemical weapons occurred mainly during the First World War, when both sides had artillery-fired projectiles that released poisonous gases such as chlorine, phosgene and “mustard gas” (compounded of carbon, chlorine, hydrogen and sulphur). Poison gas created ghastly casualties, blistering the lungs, eyes and skin of soldiers, and subjecting victims to agonizing suffering. But it was not as efficient as conventional weapons, for effectiveness depended on uncontrollable external conditions: a turn of the wind could blow the gas from the intended victims to the attackers. That, plus general revulsion at the needless suffering inflicted, facilitated agreement on a ban on the use of poison gas, the 1925 Geneva Protocol on Gas Warfare. It was widely observed by all participants in the Second World War. However, chemical weapons were reportedly used by Italy in North Africa and Japan in China.


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