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Preparing for Poison Warfare: The Ethics and Politics of Britain’s Chemical Weapons Program, 1915–1945

Schmidt, Ulf (2017) Preparing for Poison Warfare: The Ethics and Politics of Britain’s Chemical Weapons Program, 1915–1945. In: One Hundred Years of Chemical Warfare: Research, Deployment, Consequences. Springer, pp. 77-104. ISBN 978-3-319-51663-9. E-ISBN 978-3-319-51664-6. (doi:10.1007/978-3-319-51664-6_6) (KAR id:65200)


Allied political and military leaders have frequently been credited both with considerable foresight and with strategic and moral leadership for avoiding chemical warfare during the Second World War. Scholars have not, however, fully acknowledged how close Allied forces came to launching a full-scale chemical onslaught in various theatres of war. The paper offers a thorough reconstruction of Allied chemical warfare planning which takes a close look at the development of Britain’s chemical weapons program since the First World War. The findings suggest that no “lack of preparedness,” as it existed in the initial stages of the conflict in 1939/1940, would have deterred the Allies from launching chemical warfare if the military situation had required it. Allied forces were planning to launch retaliatory chemical warfare ever since they had been attacked with chlorine gas in 1915. Just War theorists at first opposed the use of this new weapon and campaigned for an internationally enforced legal ban. The paper argues, however, that post-war military and political exigencies forced the advocates of the Just War tradition to construct new arguments and principles which would make this type of war morally and militarily acceptable. The paper explores the ways in which military strategists, scientists, and government officials attempted to justify the development, possession, and use of chemical weapons, and contextualizes Britain’s delicate balancing act between deterrence and disarmament in the interwar period.

Item Type: Book section
DOI/Identification number: 10.1007/978-3-319-51664-6_6
Subjects: D History General and Old World
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Ulf Schmidt
Date Deposited: 11 Dec 2017 12:11 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:51 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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