Chemical weapons

The Geneva Protocol 1925

The Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (the Geneva Protocol 1925) was adopted in reaction to the horrific consequences of the extensive use of gas during the First World War (1914-18). The Protocol entered into force in 1928. It bans the use of ‘asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices', as well as the use of ‘bacteriological methods of warfare' by a state party to the Protocol against any country which is also a party to the Protocol. Australia acceded to the Geneva Protocol in 1930.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)

Australia was instrumental in negotiating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and has a long history of supporting its full and effective implementation. The CWC is the only verifiable international treaty to ban comprehensively an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. It is the principal international instrument for addressing the threat posed by chemical weapons. Australia was an original signatory to the CWC on 13 January 1993, and was among the first nations to ratify it in 1994. The Convention entered into force in Australia in 1997.

Australia’s commitment to the eradication of chemical weapons is founded in the memory of the many Australian casualties of chemical weapons use on the battlefields of Europe in the First World War. It is reinforced by more recent uses of chemical weapons in Iraq, and most recently, in Syria. Australia actively works to achieve the goal of universal adherence to the CWC, and we play a leading role in advocating the Convention within our region.

The CWC bans the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. It provides for

  • declaration of past chemical weapons programs, and destruction of (declared, old and abandoned) chemical weapons and any associated facilities
  • countries to declare facilities producing chemicals which could be used for chemical weapons purposes; these facilities are subject to routine inspection by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
  • international cooperation in the face of threats of chemical weapons use
  • cooperation in the use of chemicals for peaceful purposes
  • "challenge inspections" which nations may request if they have concerns that other States Party to the Convention are not abiding by their obligations.

Australia views proliferation of chemical weapons as a potentially serious threat to global and regional peace and security, and we strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons in any circumstance.  

  • Australia welcomed the United Nation Security Council’s unanimous passage of UNSCR 2118 in September 2013, which mandated the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons program. On 16 January 2014, the Foreign Minister announced an Australian contribution of $2 million to the international mission to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons. Conducted jointly by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations, this historic mission oversaw the destruction in-country or removal of all of Syria’s declared chemical weapons agents by 30 June 2014.  Australia is deeply disturbed by substantial evidence of the Syrian regimes use of sarin in Damascus (21 August 2013) and – post their accession to the Convention – multiple chlorine attacks in 2014.
  • We remain concerned that Syria has not fully declared its chemical weapons program.  Australia calls upon the Syrian regime to ensure the timely destruction of its chemical weapons production facilities, as per the destruction plan agreed by the OPCW Executive Council.

As of 15 December 2014, 190 countries have become states parties to the CWC. A further 2 states have signed, but not ratified, the Convention, and 4 states have neither signed nor ratified it.

Australia’s  implementation of its responsibilities under the CWC is  coordinated by the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office (ASNO). Australia also cooperates closely with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. Australia’s role as Chair of the Australia Group further strengthens the effective implementation of the CWC in our region and beyond.

The Third Review Conference of the CWC, held in April 2013 in The Hague, established a roadmap to take forward the Convention over the next five years.

Last Updated: 1 October 2014