« History and current events of chemical weapons:
Impossible research? » - panel 15
L’Association pour les études sur la guerre et la stratégie (AEGES) (War and Strategy Studies Association – University of Bordeaux) is launching the 6th edition of its annual conference on June 7, 8 and 9, 2023, in Bordeaux, France. This event is intended to be a space for socialization and scientific discussion that will bring together the community of researchers working on war and strategy, regardless of their disciplinary background.
The theme of panel n°15 call for papers is on "History and current events of chemical weapons: impossible research?", adopting an international and multidisciplinary perspective. This panel is organized by Ms. Aurore Kamichetty, University of Montreal-University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, PhD candidate in History and Mr. Christophe Lafaye, PhD in Contemporary History from the University Aix-Marseille and archivist, researcher associated with LIR3S laboratory of the University of Bourgogne.
Call for papers
This panel aims at reviewing the history of chemical weapons, to discuss the contemporary uses of these weapons and to question the conditions for carrying out this research in human and social sciences. Banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, ratified by France in 1997, chemical weapons remain on the battlefield in contemporary wars. Unlike nuclear weapons, chemical weapons have not been much studied by social and human science research. The use of these weapons has remained a taboo throughout the ages. In many parts of the world, it is commonly admitted that attacks by toxic substances are prohibited by both norms and law. The first identified example is mentioned in the Shastras . They explicitly state that the use of poison is not an honorable practice . Similarly, Roman law establishes armis bella non veneris geri: "war is fought with weapons, not with poison". Despite attempts at regulation at the end of the nineteenth century, the First World War (1914-1918) was the first instance in which poison gas were used on such a large scale on the battlefield. In 1918, they constituted a quarter of the shells fired by the belligerents, leaving a deep imprint in the combatants’ memory .
During the interwar period, morality and international law sanctioned the use of chemical weapons. It has been established that their use transgressed a norm when it comes to suffering inflicted in wartime. The Geneva Protocol (1925) attempts to prohibit their use. Despite this, chemical weapons continued to be developed within secret industrial complexes such as the B2 Namous site for France (created in Algeria in 1935) and used on the battlefield in the context of colonial conflicts, as shown by the examples of the British campaigns in Mesopotamia (1914-1918) or Afghanistan (1919), the Rif War (1921-1925) or the Abyssinian War (1935-1936). The threat of chemical weapons came back during the Spanish Civil War (1936) or the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). After disappearing from the battlefield during the Second World War (1939-1945), these weapons continued to be developed as neurotoxins. The decolonization wars and the conflicts of the Cold War opened new prospects for their use, while research was increasingly advancing and made any likelihood of control difficult with binarization of weapons during the 1980s. The Algerian War (1954-1962) and the Vietnam War (1962-1975) among others, gave a glimpse of a new use for these slandered weapons. The Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the Tokyo subway attacks with sarin gas (1995), the civil war in Syria (2013), the Novitchok poisonings (2018 and 2020) and certain allegations of use in Ukraine (2022), prove that the prohibitions implemented by international treaties are not sufficient to prevent chemical attacks and to prohibit their use.
Research about this topic are scarce in War Studies and the subject matter is under great tension. In France, the works of Olivier Lepick, Claude Meyer  and the team of pharmacists Régis Maucolot, Arnaud Lejaille and Pierre Labrude constitute few references in a historiography constrained by the regulatory obstacles to access to archives . How are the uses of chemical weapons approached by research in the humanities and social sciences in an international perspective? What place do these forms of combat occupy within scientific productions? What obstacles do researchers who wish to address these issues face? This panel offers to review the history of chemical weapons, to discuss their contemporary uses, and to examine the conditions for conducting research in the humanities and social sciences.
The panel focuses on two axes:
1. The history and current status of chemical weapons in the 20th and 21st centuries
The aim of this axis is to draw up a portrait of the use of chemical weapons in symmetrical and asymmetrical conflicts (e.g., in a colonial context) in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, on their technical history, in a multidisciplinary perspective. Particular attention will be given to the context of use of these "cursed weapons" in an asymmetric context. They present some common characteristics: the adversaries are not "equipped" to respond to the attack, which allows the attacker to take advantage of this asymmetric situation. Attacks are also carried out "in secret", in remote areas. Finally, the use of gas is done when facing an enemy who defends himself better than expected. What place do these events occupy in the archives? How are they recounted? What memory do these conflicts leave behind?
2. Research on chemical weapons: sources, methods and obstacles
Conducting research on the use or development of chemical weapons implies questioning the methodology developed in human and social sciences and the sources available. The fight against weapons of mass destruction proliferation or their use by terrorist groups tends to produce a legal arsenal that may constitute an obstacle to research. The taboo nature of these weapons and the risk of accusations of war crimes hardly encourages certain countries to allow researchers to examine these questions. In France, the 2008 Loi sur le Patrimoine applies to a category of non-communicable archives that limits access to research data. Article 25 of the law on the prevention of terrorist of acts of July 30, 2021, further complicates the work of the researcher with the categorization of archives without a time limit for communication. What sources and methods can researchers mobilize from a multidisciplinary and international perspective to study chemical weapons? What are the obstacles encountered and how can they be overcome? Is it still possible to conduct research in humanities and social sciences on chemical weapons?
Each paper proposal should include the following elements:
- Surname, first name, institution of affiliation, status, and email address of the author(s)
- Title of the paper proposal
- Summary of the paper proposal (4,000 characters including spaces)
- Short biographical note
Proposals for Panel 15 should be submitted by Friday, December 23, 2022 to the following emails: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Monday, November 14, 2022: Launch of the call for papers
Friday, December 23, 2022: Deadline for submission of proposals
Early January 2023: Selection of proposals by each panel president
Friday, May 19, 2023: Deadline for submission of papers
June 7-8-9, 2023: AEGES conferences in Bordeaux
Each panel will have one or two 2-hour slots. Each time slot will be presenting between 3 and 4 papers. Papers should not exceed 20 minutes, in order to keep enough time for discussion of the papers and exchanges with the audience.
Speakers will be asked to submit a draft of their paper in advance of the conference, no later than May 19, 2023. This will allow panel members and the discussant to read the paper in advance, thus facilitating the discussion.
The conference will be held over two and a half days: from Wednesday, June 7 at 2pm to Friday, June 9 at 4pm.
Participation in the congress will be subject to a registration fee based on the following rates:
- Titulaires / AEGES members: 40 euros
- Titulaires / non-members of AEGES: 75 euros
- Non-titulaires / AEGES members: 0 euro
- Non-titulaires / non-members of AEGES: 15 euros
AEGES will launch at the beginning of next year a system of scholarships allowing the funding of travel and accommodation expenses of some participants (this will be addressed in priority to young researchers, and to those who do not benefit from financial support of their laboratory).
All information related to the conference and its organization can also be found (in French) on the following page from the AEGES website: https://www.aeges.fr/congres-2023-bordeaux
Should you have any question, please contact us at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
. Hindu texts.
. Richard J. Krickus, « On the Morality of Chemical/ Biological War », Journal of Conflict Resolution 9, 2, (juin 1965), 120.
. Ricardo Frailé, La guerre biologique et chimique : le sort d’une interdiction, (Paris : Economica, 1982), I.
. Olivier Lepick, La grande guerre chimique (1914-1918), (Paris : Presses universitaires de France, 1998).
. Olivier Lepick, Les armes chimiques, (Paris : Presses universitaires de France, Que-sais-je ?, 1999).
. Claude Meyer (colonel), L’arme chimique, (Paris : Ellipses, fondation pour la recherche stratégique, 2001).
. Régis Maucolot, Pierre Labrude, Arnaud Lejaille, La guerre des gaz (1914-1918). Les pharmaciens français dans l’action, (Paris : éditions du Brevail, 2021).
. In France, article L213-2 of the 2008 law on non-communicable archives.
. Olivier Lion, « Des armes maudites pour les sales guerres ? L'emploi des armes chimiques dans les conflits asymétriques », Stratégiques, 2009/1-2-3-4, 491-531.