The Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, usually called the Geneva Protocol, is a treaty prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons in international armed conflicts. It was signed at Geneva on 17 June 1925 and entered into force on 8 February 1928. It was registered in League of NationsTreaty Series on 7 September 1929. The Geneva Protocol is a protocol to the Convention for the Supervision of the International Trade in Arms and Ammunition and in Implements of War signed on the same date, and followed the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.
It prohibits the use of "asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices" and "bacteriological methods of warfare". This is now understood to be a general prohibition on chemical weapons and biological weapons, but has nothing to say about production, storage or transfer. Later treaties did cover these aspects – the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
A number of countries submitted reservations when becoming parties to the Geneva Protocol, declaring that they only regarded the non-use obligations as applying to other parties and that these obligations would cease to apply if the prohibited weapons were used against them.
In the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, the use of dangerous chemical agents was outlawed. In spite of this, the First World War saw large-scale chemical warfare. France used tear gas in 1914, but the first large-scale successful deployment of chemical weapons was by the German Empire in Ypres, Belgium in 1915, when chlorine gas was released as part of a German attack at the Battle of Gravenstafel. Following this, a chemical arms race began, with the United Kingdom, Russia, Austria-Hungary, the United States, and Italy joining France and Germany in the use of chemical weapons. This resulted in the development of a range of horrific chemicals affecting lungs, skin, or eyes. Some were intended to be lethal on the battlefield, like hydrogen cyanide, and efficient methods of deploying agents were invented. At least 124,000 tons were produced during the war. In 1918, about one grenade out of three was filled with dangerous chemical agents. Around 1.3 million casualties of the conflict were attributed to the use of gas and the psychological effect on troops may have had a much greater effect. As protective equipment developed, the technology to destroy such equipment also became a part of the arms race. The use of deadly poison gas was not only limited to combatants in the front but also civilians as nearby civilian towns were at risk from winds blowing the poison gases through. Civilians living in towns rarely had any warning systems about the dangers of poison gas as well as not having access to effective gas masks. The use of chemical weapons employed by both sides had inflicted an estimated 100,000-260,000 civilian casualties during the conflict. Tens of thousands or more (along with military personnel) died from scarring of the lungs, skin damage, and cerebral damage in the years after the conflict ended. In the year 1920 alone, over 40,000 civilians and 20,000 military personnel died from the chemical weapons effects.
At the 1925 Geneva Conference for the Supervision of the International Traffic in Arms the French suggested a protocol for non-use of poisonous gases. The Second Polish Republic suggested the addition of bacteriological weapons. It was signed on 17 June.
Early in the Cold War, the UK collaborated with the U.S. in the development of chemical weapons. The Soviet Union also had the facilities to produce chemical weapons but their development was kept secret.
During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, Iraq is known to have employed a variety of chemical weapons against Iranian forces, as well as nerve agents against Kurdish civilians, the most notorious example of which was 1988 attack on Halabja.
Eric Croddy, assessing the Protocol in 2005, took the view that the historic record showed it had been largely ineffectual. Specifically it did not prohibit:
use against not-ratifying parties
retaliation using such weapons, so effectively making it a no-first-use agreement
use within a state's own borders in a civil conflict
research and development of such weapons, or stockpiling them
In light of these shortcomings, Jack Beard notes that "the Protocol (...) resulted in a legal framework that allowed states to conduct [biological weapons] research, develop new biological weapons, and ultimately engage in [biological weapons] arms races".
In 1966, United Nations General Assembly resolution 2162B called for, without any dissent, all states to strictly observe the protocol. In 1969, United Nations General Assembly resolution 2603 (XXIV) declared that the prohibition on use of chemical and biological weapons in international armed conflicts, as embodied in the protocol (though restated in a more general form), were generally recognized rules of international law. Following this, there was discussion of whether the main elements of the protocol now form part of customary international law, and now this is widely accepted to be the case.
There have been differing interpretations over whether the protocol covers the use of harassing agents, such as adamsite and tear gas, and defoliants and herbicides, such as Agent Orange, in warfare. The 1977 Environmental Modification Convention prohibits the military use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects. Many states do not regard this as a complete ban on the use of herbicides in warfare, but it does require case-by-case consideration. The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention effectively banned riot control agents from being used as a method of warfare, though still permitting it for riot control.
Parties with unwithdrawn reservations limiting the applicability of provisions of the Protocol
To become party to the Protocol, states must deposit an instrument with the government of France (the depositary power). Thirty-eight states originally signed the Protocol. France was the first signatory to ratify the Protocol on 10 May 1926. El Salvador, the final signatory to ratify the Protocol, did so on 26 February 2008. As of April 2021, 146 states have ratified, acceded to, or succeeded to the Protocol, most recently Colombia on 24 November 2015.
A number of countries submitted reservations when becoming parties to the Geneva Protocol, declaring that they only regarded the non-use obligations as applying with respect to other parties to the Protocol and/or that these obligations would cease to apply with respect to any state, or its allies, which used the prohibited weapons. Several Arab states also declared that their ratification did not constitute recognition of, or diplomatic relations with, Israel, or that the provision of the Protocol were not binding with respect to Israel. Generally, reservations not only modify treaty provisions for the reserving party, but also symmetrically modify the provisions for previously ratifying parties in dealing with the reserving party.: 394 Subsequently, numerous states have withdrawn their reservations, including the former Czechoslovakia in 1990 prior to its dissolution, or the Russian reservation on biological weapons that "preserved the right to retaliate in kind if attacked" with them, which was dissolved by President Yeltsin.
According to the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties, states which succeed to a treaty after gaining independence from a state party "shall be considered as maintaining any reservation to that treaty which was applicable at the date of the succession of States in respect of the territory to which the succession of States relates unless, when making the notification of succession, it expresses a contrary intention or formulates a reservation which relates to the same subject matter as that reservation." While some states have explicitly either retained or renounced their reservations inherited on succession, states which have not clarified their position on their inherited reservations are listed as "implicit" reservations.
^ abcdefghijklmnopqrsAccording to the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties, states which succeed to a treaty after gaining independence from a state party "shall be considered as maintaining any reservation to that treaty which was applicable at the date of the succession of States in respect of the territory to which the succession of States relates unless, when making the notification of succession, it expresses a contrary intention or formulates a reservation which relates to the same subject matter as that reservation." Any state which has not clarified their position on reservations inherited on succession are listed as "implicit" reservations.
^Although the FR Yugoslavia claimed to be the continuator state of the SFR of Yugoslavia, the United Nations General Assembly did not accept this and forced them to reapply for membership.
^ abBeard, J. (2007). "The Shortcomings of Indeterminacy in Arms Control Regimes: The Case of the Biological Weapons Convention". American Journal of International Law. 101(2): 271–321. doi:10.1017/S0002930000030098. p., 277
^"2603 (XXIV). Question of chemical and bacteriological (biological) weapons"(PDF). United Nations General Assembly. 16 December 1969. Retrieved 24 August 2013. use in international armed conflicts of: (a) Any chemical agents of warfare - chemical substances, whether gaseous, liquid or solid - which might be employed because of their direct toxic effects on man, animals or plants; (b) Any biological agents of warfare - living organisms, whatever their nature, or infective material derived from them - which are intended to cause disease or death in man, animals or plants, and which depend for their effects on their ability to multiply in the person, animal or plant attacked.