Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation

Signed at Geneva, June 17, 1925
Entered Into Force February 8, 1928

Narrative

At the end of World War I, the victorious Allies decided to reaffirm in the Versailles Treaty (1919) the prewar prohibition of the use of poisonous gases (see Introduction) and to forbid Germany to manufacture or import them. Similar provisions were included in the peace treaties with Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary.

Drawing upon the language of these peace treaties, the United States -- at the Washington Disarmament Conference of 1922 -- took the initiative of introducing a similar provision into a treaty on submarines and noxious gases. The U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to ratification of this treaty without a dissenting vote. It never entered into force, however, since French ratification was necessary, and France objected to the submarine provisions.

At the 1925 Geneva Conference for the Supervision of the International Traffic in Arms, the United States similarly took the initiative of seeking to prohibit the export of gases for use in war. At French suggestion it was decided to draw up a protocol on non-use of poisonous gases and at the suggestion of Poland the prohibition was extended to bacteriological weapons. Signed on June 17, 1925, the Geneva Protocol thus restated the prohibition previously laid down by the Versailles and Washington treaties and added a ban on bacteriological warfare.

Before World War II the protocol was ratified by many countries, including all the great powers except the United States and Japan. When they ratified or acceded to the protocol, some nations -- including the United Kingdom, France, and the USSR -- declared that it would cease to be binding on them if their enemies, or the allies of their enemies, failed to respect the prohibitions of the protocol. Although Italy was a party to the protocol, it used poison gas in the Ethiopian war. Nevertheless, the protocol was generally observed in World War II. Referring to reports that the Axis powers were considering the use of gas, President Roosevelt said on June 8, 1943:

Use of such weapons has been outlawed by the general opinion of civilized mankind.

This country has not used them, and I hope that we never will be compelled to use them. I state categorically that we shall under no circumstances resort to the use of such weapons unless they are first used by our enemies.

Although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee favorably reported the protocol in 1926, there was strong lobbying against it, and the Senate never voted on it. After the war, President Truman withdrew it from the Senate, together with other inactive older treaties. Little attention was paid to the protocol for several years thereafter. During the Korean war the Communist side accused the United States of using bacteriological weapons in Korea, but at the same time they rejected American proposals for international investigation of their charges. In the Security Council, the Soviet Union introduced a draft resolution calling on all U.N. members to ratify the protocol. At that time the United States was not willing to agree to prohibit the use of any weapons of mass destruction unless they could be eliminated through a disarmament agreement with effective safeguards. On June 26, 1952, the Soviet resolution was rejected by a vote of 1 to 0, with 10 abstentions (including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France).

In 1966 the Communist countries strongly criticized the United States for using tear gas and chemical herbicides in Vietnam. In the General Assembly, Hungary charged that the use in war of these agents was prohibited by the Geneva Protocol and other provisions of international law. The United States denied that the protocol applied to nontoxic gases or chemical herbicides. Joined by Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom, the United States introduced amendments to a Hungarian resolution that would have made the use of any chemical and bacteriological weapons an international crime. In its final form the resolution called for "strict observance by all states of the principles and objectives" of the protocol, condemned "all actions contrary to those objectives," and invited all states to accede to the protocol. During the debate the U.S. Representa-tive stated that it would be up to each country to decide whether or how to adhere to the protocol, "in the light of constitutional and other consider-ations."

Interpretation of the protocol remained a thorny problem. In his foreword to a U.N. report on chemical and biological weapons (July 1, 1969), Secretary General Thant recommended a renewed appeal for accession to the protocol and a "clear affirmation" that it covered the use in war of all chemical and biological weapons, including tear gas and other harassing agents. Discussion in the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD) showed that most members agreed with the Thant recommendations. Swedish Ambassador Myrdal, a strong advocate of the broad interpretation, stressed the danger of escalation if nonlethal chemical agents were permitted. She also pointed out that the military use of tear gases should be distinguished from their use for riot control and that there was a similar difference between using herbicides in war and employing them for peaceful purposes. On the other hand, U.K. Disarmament Minister Mulley held that only the parties to the protocol were entitled to say what it meant.

In the General Assembly, the 12 nonaligned members of the CCD, joined by 9 other nations, introduced a resolution condemning as contrary to international law the use in international armed conflict of all chemical and biological agents. Opposing the resolution, the U.S. Representative reaffirmed the American interpretation of the protocol and took the position that it was inappropriate for the General Assembly to interpret treaties by means of a resolution. The 21-nation resolution was adopted on December 16, 1969, by a vote of 80 to 3 (Australia, Portugal, the United States), and 36 abstentions (including France and the United Kingdom). France and many other abstainers accepted the broad interpretation of the protocol but considered the resolution undesirable on other grounds.

While the General Assembly debate was still underway, President Nixon announced on November 25,1969, that he would resubmit the protocol to the Senate. He reaffirmed U.S. renunciation of the first use of lethal chemical weapons and extended this renunciation to incapacitating chemicals. It was on this occasion that he also announced the unilateral U.S. renunciation of bacteriological (biological) methods of warfare.

Some support for the American interpretation of the protocol now came from the United Kingdom and Japan. During the 1930 discussion at Geneva in the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference, the United Kingdom had taken the position that the protocol covered tear gas. In February 1970 the British Foreign Secretary told Parliament that this was still the British position, but that the riot-control agent CS, unlike older tear gases, was not harmful to man and was therefore not covered by the protocol. During the Diet debate on Japanese ratification of the protocol, Foreign Minister Aichi took the position that it did not prohibit riot-control agents and herbicides. Japan ratified the protocol in May 1970.

In a report of August 11, 1970, to the President, Secretary of State Rogers recommended that the protocol be ratified with a reservation of the right to retaliate with gas if an enemy state or its allies violated the protocol. He also reaffirmed the position that the protocol did not apply to the use in war of riot-control agents and herbicides. President Nixon resubmitted the protocol to the Senate on August 19.

The Foreign Relations Committee did not accept the Administrations interpretation regarding riot-control agents and herbicides. In a letter of April 15, 1971, to the President, Chairman Fulbright said many members thought that it would be in the interest of the United States either to ratify the protocol without "restrictive understandings" or to postpone action until this became possible. The Committee thus deferred action. It also held in abeyance the Biological Weapons Convention, which was submitted to it on August 10,1972, pending resolution of this issue.

In the latter part of 1974, the Ford Administration launched a new initiative to obtain Senate consent to ratification of the protocol (and simultaneously of the Biological Weapons Convention). The new approach was set forth to the Committee by ACDA Director Fred Ikle on December 10, when he announced that the President, while reaffirming the Administrations view as to the scope of the protocol, was prepared "to renounce as a matter of national policy: (1) first use of herbicides in war except use, under regulations applicable to their domestic use, for control of vegetation within U.S. bases and installations or around their immediate defensive perimeters; (2) first use of riot-control agents in war except in defensive military modes to save lives such as:

(a) Use of riot-control agents in riot-control circumstances to include controlling rioting prisoners of war. This exception would permit use of riot-control agents in riot situations in areas under direct and distinct U.S. military control;

(b) Use of riot-control agents in situations where civilian casualties can be reduced or avoided. This use would be restricted to situations in which civilians are used to mask or screen attacks;

(c) Use of riot-control agents in rescue missions. The use of riot-control agents would be permissible in the recovery of remotely isolated personnel such as downed aircrews (and passengers);

(d) Use of riot-control agents in rear echelon areas outside the combat zone to protect convoys from civil disturbances, terrorists and paramilitary organizations."

In addition, Dr. Ikle testified that "the President, under an earlier directive still in force, must approve in advance any use of riot-control agents and chemical herbicides in war."

Two days later, on December 12, the Committee voted unanimously to send the protocol and the convention to the Senate floor and on December 16 the Senate voted its approval, also unanimously. The Committee, in recommending advice and consent to ratification of the protocol, indicated that it attached particular importance to Dr. Ikles response to the following question posed in connection with his December 10 testimony:

Question: "Assuming the Senate were to give its advice and consent to ratification on the grounds proposed by the Administration, what legal impediment would there be to subsequent Presidential decisions broadening the permissible uses of herbicides and riot-control agents?

Answer: "There would be no formal legal impediment to such a decision. However, the policy which was presented to the Committee will be inextricably linked with the history of Senate consent to ratification of the Protocol with its consent dependent upon its observance. If a future administration should change this policy without Senate consent whether in practice or by a formal policy change, it would be inconsistent with the history of the ratification, and could have extremely grave political repercussions and as a result is extremely unlikely to happen."

The protocol and the convention were ratified by President Ford on January 22, 1975. The U.S. instrument of ratification of the convention was deposited on March 26, 1975, and of the protocol on April 10, 1975.

Responding to the extensive use of chemical weapons between belligerents in the Iran-lraq war and the increasing number of chemical weapon-capable states, President Reagan, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly on September 26, 1988, urged the Parties to the Protocol and all other concerned states to convene a conference to review the rapid deterioration of respect for international norms against chemical weapon use. Hosted by France, 149 states met in Paris, January 7-11, 1989, for a Conference on Chemical Weapons Use. In the Final Declaration, the states "solemnly affirm their commitments not to use chemical weapons and condemn such use." Among other things, they also recognized the importance of the Geneva Protocol, reaffirmed the prohibitions as established in it, and called upon all states which have not yet done so to accede to the Protocol.


Treaty Text

Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare

Signed at Geneva June 17, 1925
Entered into force February 8, 1928
Ratification advised by the U.S. Senate December 16, 1974
Ratified by U.S. President January 22, 1975
U.S. ratification deposited with the
Government of France April 10, 1975
Proclaimed by U.S. President April 29, 1975

The Undersigned Plenipotentiaries, in the name of their respective Governments:

Whereas the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world; and

Whereas the prohibition of such use has been declared in Treaties to which the majority of Powers of the World are Parties; and

To the end that this prohibition shall be universally accepted as a part of International Law, binding alike the conscience and the practice of nations;

Declare:

That the High Contracting Parties, so far as they are not already Parties to Treaties prohibiting such use, accept this prohibition, agree to extend this prohibition to the use of bacteriological methods of warfare and agree to be bound as between themselves according to the terms of this declaration.

The High Contracting Parties will exert every effort to induce other States to accede to the present Protocol. Such accession will be notified to the Government of the French Republic, and by the latter to all signatory and acceding Powers, and will take effect on the date of the notification by the Government of the French Republic.

The present Protocol, of which the French and English texts are both authentic, shall be ratified as soon as possible. It shall bear todays date.

The ratifications of the present Protocol shall be addressed to the Government of the French Republic, which will at once notify the deposit of such ratification to each of the signatory and acceding Powers.

The instruments of ratification of and accession to the present Protocol will remain deposited in the archives of the Government of the French Republic.

The present Protocol will come into force for each signatory Power as from the date of deposit of its ratification, and, from that moment, each Power will be bound as regards other powers which have already deposited their ratifications.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF the Plenipotentiaries have signed the present Protocol.

DONE at Geneva in a single copy, this seventeenth day of June, One Thousand Nine Hundred and Twenty-Five.


State Parties

Done at Geneva, June 17, 1925
Entered Into Force February 8, 1928*

1. States Parties:

A = Accession
R = Ratification
D = Declaration of Succession

If a scroll bar appears below the following table, swipe the table to move left/right of the dashed line.
Afghanistan December 9, 1986
A
Albania December 20, 1989
A
Algeria (*) January 27, 1992
A
Angola (*) November 8, 1990
A
Antigua and Barbuda April 27, 1988
D
Argentina May 12, 1969
A
Australia (2) May 24, 1930
A
Austria May 9, 1928
R
Bahrain (*) December 9, 1988
A
Bangladesh (*) May 20, 1989
A
Barbados July 16, 1976
D
Belgium (3) December 4, 1928
R
Benin December 9, 1986
A
Bhutan February 19, 1979
A
Bolivia August 13, 1985
A
Brazil August 28, 1970
R
Bulgaria (4) March 7, 1934
R
Burkina Faso March 3, 1971
A
Cambodia (*) (5) March 15, 1983
A
Cameroon July 20, 1989
A
Canada (6) May 6, 1930
R
Cape Verde October 15, 1991
A
Central African Republic July 31, 1970
A
Chile (7) July 2, 1935
R
China (*) (8) July 13, 1952
D
Côte d’Ivoire July 27, 1970
A
Cuba June 24, 1966
A
Cyprus December 12, 1966
D
Denmark May 5, 1930
R
Dominican Republic December 8, 1970
A
Ecuador September 16, 1970
A
Egypt December 6, 1928
R
Estonia (10) August 28, 1931
R
Ethiopia October 7, 1935
R
Equatorial Guinea May 20, 1989
A
Fiji (*) March 21, 1973
D
Finland June 26, 1929
R
France (11) May 10, 1926
R
Gambia, The November 5, 1966
D
Germany April 25, 1929
R
Ghana May 3, 1967
A
Greece May 30, 1931
R
Grenada January 3, 1989
D
Guatemala May 3, 1983
A
Guinea Bissau May 20, 1989
A
Holy See October 18, 1966
A
Hungary October 11, 1952
A
Iceland November 2, 1967
A
India (*) April 9, 1930
R
Indonesia January 21, 1971
D
Iran November 5, 1929
A
Iraq (*) September 8, 1931
A
Ireland (12) August 29, 1930
A
Israel (*) February 20, 1969
A
Italy April 3, 1928
R
Jamaica July 28, 1970
D
Japan May 21, 1970
R
Jordan January 20, 1977
A
Kenya July 6, 1970
A
Korea (Republic of) (*) January 4, 1989
A
Korea (Democratic People's Republic of) (*) January 4, 1989
A
Kuwait (*) December 15, 1971
A
Laos May 20, 1989
A
Latvia June 3, 1931
R
Lebanon April 17, 1969
A
Lesotho March 10, 1972
D
Liberia June 17, 1927
A
Libya (*) December 29, 1971
A
Liechtenstein September 6, 1991
A
Lithuania June 15, 1933
R
Luxembourg September 1, 1936
R
Madagascar August 2, 1967
A
Malawi September 14, 1970
A
Malaysia December 10, 1970
A
Maldives December 27, 1966
D
Malta September 21, 1964
D
Mauritius March 12, 1968
D
Mexico May 28, 1932
A
Monaco January 6, 1967
A
Mongolia (13) December 6, 1968
A
Morocco October 13, 1970
A
Nepal May 9, 1969
A
Netherlands (18) October 31, 1930
R
New Zealand (15) May 24, 1930
A
Nicaragua (14) October 5, 1990
R
Niger April 5, 1967
D
Nigeria (*) October 15, 1968
A
Norway July 27, 1932
R
Pakistan (*) April 15, 1960
D
Panama (16) December 4, 1970
A
Papua New Guinea (*) September 2, 1980
D
Paraguay (17) October 22, 1933
A
Peru August 13, 1985
A
Philippines June 8, 1973
A
Poland February 4, 1929
R
Portugal (*) July 1, 1930
R
Qatar October 18, 1976
A
Romania (19) August 23, 1929
R
Russia (21) April 5, 1928
R
Rwanda May 11, 1964
D
St. Kitts & Nevis April 27, 1989
D
St. Lucia December 21, 1988
D
St.Vincent & the Grenadines April 23, 1999
D
Saudi Arabia January 27, 1971
A
Senegal June 15, 1977
A
Sierra Leone March 20, 1967
A
Slovakia (22) (23) January 1, 1993
D
Solomon Is. (*) June 1, 1981
D
South Africa (1) May 24, 1930
A
Spain (9) August 22, 1929
R
Sri Lanka January 20, 1954
A
Sudan December 17, 1980
A
Swaziland July 23, 1991
A
Sweden April 25, 1930
R
Switzerland July 12, 1932
R
Syria (*) December 17, 1968
A
Tanzania April 22, 1963
A
Thailand June 6, 1931
R
Togo April 5, 1971
A
Tonga July 19, 1971
D
Trinidad & Tobago August 31, 1962
D
Tunisia July 12, 1967
A
Turkey October 5, 1929
R
Uganda May 24, 1965
A
United Kingdom (20) April 9, 1930
R
United States April 10, 1975
R
Uruguay April 12, 1977
R
Venezuela February 8, 1928
R
Vietnam (*) December 15, 1980
A
Yemen (24) March 11, 1971
A

2. Signatory:

If a scroll bar appears below the following table, swipe the table to move left/right of the dashed line.
El Salvador June 17, 1925

* This table was formulated using the instruments deposited in the archives of the Government of the French Republic.

Notes

  1. In a communication dated July 12, 1996, South Africa withdrew the reservations made at the time of its accession (notification by the French Government upon directive dated October 20, 1966).
  2. In a communication dated November 25, 1986, Australia withdrew the reservation it had made on May 24, 1930 (notification by the French Government on December 9, 1986).
  3. In a communication dated February 17, 1997, Belgium withdrew the reservations made at the time of its ratification (notification by the French Government upon directive dated February 27, 1997).
  4. Bulgaria withdrew the reservation it had made at the time of its ratification of the Protocol on March 7, 1934 (communication by Bulgarian Government dated October 2, 1991, notification of which was given by the French Government on October 15, 1991).
  5. In a note verbale dated September 30, 1993, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia indicated that the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia considers itself bound by the June 17, 1925 Protocol, to which the Coalition Government of Democratic Cambodia had acceded on March 15, 1983. This 1983 accession had been considered invalid by Australia, Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, France, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Mauritius, Mongolia, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam.
  6. In a communication dated August 20, 1991, Canada withdrew the reservations to the Protocol with respect to bacteriological methods (notification by the French Government on September 6, 1991). In a communication dated October 28, 1999, Canada withdrew the reservations it had made at the time of its ratification of the Protocol (notification by the French Government on November 2, 1999).
  7. In a communication dated September 11, 1991, Chile withdrew the reservation it had made at the time of its ratification of the Protocol (notification by the French Government on October 15, 1991).
  8. The People’s Republic of China acceded to the Protocol by means of a declaration of succession on July 13, 1952.
  9. In a communication dated November 27, 1992, Spain withdrew the reservation it had made at the time of its ratification (notification by the French Government on December 28, 1992).
  10. In a communication received by the Embassy of France in Talinn on May 28, 1999, Estonia withdrew the reservations it had made at the time of its ratification (notification by the French Government on July 29, 1999).
  11. In a declaration dated November 25, 1996, France withdrew its reservations (notification by the French Government upon directive dated December 12, 1996).
  12. In a communication dated February 10, 1972, Ireland withdrew the reservation it had made at the time of its accession (notification by the French Government dated May 25, 1972).
  13. In a communication dated May 15, 1990, Mongolia withdrew the reservation it had made at the time of its accession (notification by the French Government dated July 10, 1990).
  14. Nicaragua ratified the Protocol on September 7, 1990. Instrument received by the French Government on October 5, 1990; notification on October 5, 1990.
  15. In a communication dated January 6, 1989, New Zealand withdrew the reservations it had made at the time of its accession (notification by the French Government on May 20, 1989).
  16. Panama ratified its accession on March 15, 1971.
  17. Notification formalized on January 13, 1969.
  18. (a) Includes the Netherlands Antilles, Surinam, and Curaçao.
    (b) In a communication received on July 17, 1995, the Netherlands withdrew their reservations made at the time of ratification (notification by the French Government on July 23, 1991).
  19. In a communication dated July 16, 1991, Romania withdrew the reservations it had made at the time of its ratification of the Protocol (notification by the French Government on July 23, 1991).
  20. (a) In a communication dated November 8, 1991, the United Kingdom withdrew Part 2 of the reservation it had made at the time of its ratification of the Protocol, which Part stated: “The said Protocol shall cease to be binding on His Britannic Majesty towards any Power at enmity with Him whose armed forces, or the armed forces of whose allies, fail to respect the prohibitions laid down in the Protocol.” It withdrew Part 2 insofar as it concerns the use of agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery specified in Article 1 of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, of April 10, 1972. (b) In a communication dated June 24, 1997, the United Kingdom indicated that it ceased: “to be responsible for the rights and obligations arising from the application of the Protocol to Hong Kong” (notification by the French Government on July 2, 1997)
  21. In a communication dated January 18, 2001, the Russian Federation withdrew the reservations that had been made on April 5, 1928, by the Soviet Union at the time of its ratification of the Protocol (notification by the French Government upon directive dated January 22, 2001).
  22. The Czech and Slovak Federal Republic withdrew the reservation it had made at the time of its ratification of the Protocol on August 16, 1938 (communication from the Government of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic dated September 25, 1990, with notification by the French Government on November 8, 1990.)
  23. Slovakia indicated on September 22, 1993, that it considers itself bound by the Protocol and it confirmed this in a communication dated July 1, 1997 (notification by the French Government on July 2, 1997).
  24. On March 11,1971, the Yemen Arab Republic deposited its instrument of accession. On September 16, 1973, it sent the French Government a new instrument of accession that includes a reservation. The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen acceded on October 20, 1986.

Current as of September 25, 2002

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