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The 'taboo' against the use of chemical weapons may be fading, says Britain's military chief

From CBC - April 6, 2018

The use of chemical weaponsby nations or terroristscannot be allowed to become the new normal, says Britain's top military commander.

In an interview withCBCNews,Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach said the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury last month has profound implications for western militaries.

It "is a moment to take stock," said Peach, the British chief of the defence staff, who is in Ottawa this week for meetings.

The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal "demonstrates,tragically,that the use of nerve agent in this case, chemical weapons, is now reality and therefore in military terms we need to make surewe are vigilant and ready to respond to that wicked use."

The Geneva Protocolthe initial treaty banning chemical and biological weaponshas been the international benchmark for such weapons for over eight decades.

The development, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons has continued throughout the years. Many nations have them. Almost no one uses them.

Iran and Iraq used poison gas during their long and bitter war in the 1980s. Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gassed rebellious Kurds during the same period.

Most militaries train to fight and survive inenvironments compromised bychemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Almost none of them truly expect to be faced with that kind of scenario.

It's theso-called "non-state actors" that western militaries worryabout the most.

That fear came to life in 1995, when terrorists unleashed sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 people.

A weapon of terror becomes a tool of state power

But the inhibitions that keep nations from using chemical weaponsasinstruments of state powerappearto be weakening, Peach said.

"We have seen enough evidence to suggest both in Syria and, tragically, now on our own streets in Salisbury, the taboo has been challenged," he said.

Canada's grim experience of chemical warfare

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