CBW Events is a project to create a record of events to enable and encourage understanding of how policies on the issues relating to chemical and biological warfare (CBW) and its prevention are developed.

CBW Events -- February 2017 selections

Each month, entries for a small number of selected anniversaries of notable CBW-related events are posted. All will appear in the relevant final versions of the chronologies.

35 years ago | 40 years ago | 50 years ago | 65 years ago | 70 years ago

35 years ago:

23 February 1982      In London, there is a series of exchanges on the floor of the House of Commons about chemical weapons in which the Government make specific reference to Soviet capabilities and to the US binary weapons programme. The Secretary of State for Defence, John Nott, says: "The Soviet Union now has 60,000 troops trained in and specially designated to fight in chemical warfare. Training exercises are carried out on live chemical training grounds and we know that there have been fatal casualties among Soviet troops undertaking such training. ... The total stock of chemical weapons held by the Soviet Union is more than 300,000 tonnes, much of it deployed forward into Europe, with the means of delivering it".[1]
     On the US programme, he says: "There is no proposal at present to deploy the new American binary weapons forward in Europe and the Americans have agreed to consult their European allies before any such forward deployment arises."[2]
     [1] John Nott, Secretary of State for Defence, Oral Answers, 23 February 1982, Hansard (Commons), vol 18, c73637, in response to a question from Mr Haynes MP.
     [2] John Nott, Secretary of State for Defence, Oral Answers, 23 February 1982, Hansard (Commons), vol 18, c737, in response to a questions from Michael McNair-Wilson MP.


40 years ago:

28 February 1977      In London, the British Ministry of Defence publishes the latest annual Defence White Paper, Statement on the Defence Estimates 1977[1] [see also 17 March 1976]. The section entitled "Detente and Disarmament" includes the following: "117. ... In August 1976 [see 6 August 1976] we tabled in the CCD a draft convention on banning the development, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons and on their destruction. In the United Kingdom military work in this area is devoted only to defensive measures, which will continue to be necessary as long as other States possess chemical weapons. The draft convention seeks to bring together the work done at the CCD and elsewhere, in particular on the definition of chemical warfare agents and on verification techniques, and aims to give further impetus to the negotiations, in order to secure a comprehensive and verifiable prohibition of the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons."
     The section entitled "Research" outlines plans for "rationalisation" of research and development establishments, initiated in previous years, including those dealing with CBW issues: "328. The reviews of the future levels of R&D in the Chemical Defence Establishment (CDE) and the Microbiological Research Establishment (MRE) have been completed. It has been concluded that, without detriment to military objectives, R&D effort on defence against chemical warfare can be reduced to about two-thirds its present size, and the requirements for microbiological research can be met adequately by a small team of about ten scientists and their supporting staff integrated within CDE. The future of MRE, whose programme has included substantial elements of civil work, therefore depends on the scale and range of civil requirements. These are being studied by the Central Policy Review Staff, having regard to the national interest in securing the most economic deployment of the country's resources and expertise for conducting biological research."
     [1] Statement on the Defence Estimates 1977, Cmnd 6735, February 1977


50 years ago:

1 February 1967      The raising of allegations of use of chemical weapons in the Yemen civil war [see 6 January 1967] in the British House of Commons [see 31 January 1967] prompts comment from the Egyptian Minister of National Guidance in Cairo.[1]
     The Egyptian statement reads: "World news agencies have reported a statement made in the House of Commons this afternoon [sic] by the British Prime Minister, Mr Harold Wilson, who commented on the allegations disseminated by Saudi Arabia and some propaganda elements cooperating with it, that the UAR used poison gas bombs against the village "Kataf" on Yemeni-Saudi border. The UAR deemed it wise hitherto to ignore these allegations which turned out to be untrue. But the remarks made by the British Premier in the House of Commons gave them certain colour. Although the British Premier was vague when he said that his Government had reason to believe that the allegations were true, his words might give a wrong impression.
     "In the name of the UAR I have been entrusted to affirm once again and in a decisive manner that the UAR has not used poisonous gas at any time and did not resort to using such gas even when there were military operations in Yemen.
     "I have also been entrusted with announcing officially that the UAR is ready to accept a fact-finding mission from the UN and is ready to make necessary arrangements for the mission to go to Yemen immediately. Yemen has agreed to give the mission all facilities to expose the anti-UAR propaganda and those who undertake it in London."
     [1] Egyptian Minister of National Guidance, 1 February 1967, as quoted in SIPRI I, p. 159 and SIPRI II, p 245.


65 years ago:

24 February 1952     British Prime Minister Winston Churchill mocks a request from the Biological Research Advisory Board for assurance that any UK use of biological weapons would be in retaliation only.
     The request for assurances from ministers that biological weapons would not be used outside the terms laid down by the Geneva Protocol had been passed on to the Prime Minister by Cabinet Secretary Norman Brook. Brook had written: "the scientists engaged on this work suffer a sense of sin which makes them itch to justify what they are doing. Some months ago they sought authority to release a statement claiming that it was more merciful to kill a man by inducing mortal disease than by blowing him to bits with high explosive. I see no reason to suppose that we shall have to justify our "biological warfare" research. And, if we have to do so, I hope we shall not squirm and cringe in the pretence that it is all "defensive". I do not think we should be troubled to approve a statement like this before the need to issue anything has arisen." His recommendation to the Prime Minister was: "I suggest that these people might get on with their work and stop bothering about publicity for it." Churchill tells Brook: "Please ask them to itch a little longer. We are very busy insects."
     The papers are made public 47 years later.[1]
     [1] Susie Steiner, "Churchill dismissed germ scientists' guilt", Times (London), 11 June 1999, p 10; Alan Travis, "Boffins' germ war protest was rejected", Guardian (London), 11 June 1999, p 11.


70 years ago:

5 February 1947      The freighter Dora Oldendorff [in some sources spelt Oldendorf] is scuttled with a cargo that includes chemical munitions being disposed of by the United Kingdom [see 11 November 1946]. The location is given as 47 40.00N, 09 22.00W at a depth of 35004000 metres.[1]
     [1] UK Ministry of Defence, "British Isles Explosive Dumping Grounds", August 2005.


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