Chemical Weapons and Arms Control: The U.S. and the Geneva Protocol of 1925 (Case Study #4)


January 1, 1990

The Geneva Protocol of 1925, forbidding the use of chemical and biological weapons in war, is the oldest multilateral arms control treaty still in effect. The treaty has even more significance as the first mostly successfully attempt to control a change in warfare that was wrought by modern technology. Arguable it was the only success before the nuclear age.

It is interesting that the United States did not ratify the ban in 1926, after having been instrumental in placing it on the international agenda. It is equally interesting that the U.S. government took up the Protocol again as a live political option in the late 1960s after a gap of more than 40 years. The United States finally ratified the Geneva Protocol on January 22, 1975, the last major industrial power to do so.

In addition to its historical perspective, this case discusses the importance of ethical argument in policy making and in the legislative process. Particular attention is given to the salience of "just war" theory and its relevance to these issues.

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