Editorial from the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard
While some CNDers, together with the Labour Party, are campaigning for more so-called conventional weapons to maintain British military strength if it unilaterally abandons nuclear weapons, a conventional war has been raging in the Gulf area for about four years. Estimates of the numbers killed to date vary between 200,000 and 500,000, proof (if any were needed) that conventional weapons can be just as deadly as nuclear ones. But there is another aspect of this war which completely undermines the CND case for trying to ban the use of one particular type of weapon.
As a result of incidents during the First World War. most states pledged themselves, in a Convention signed in Geneva in 1925, not to use chemical weapons (or rather poison gas weapons since all bombs are chemical) in their wars with each other. Iraq signed this Convention when it became independent and thus could wage war on its own account. Yet the evidence now seems to be that it has nevertheless used poison gas, perhaps even the dreaded “mustard gas" of the First World War, in its war with Iran.
Apparently the rulers of Iraq, who must fear that they are eventually going to lose this war, have decided that the preservation of their state and rule is more important than any “scrap of paper" they may have signed (the only papers deposited in Geneva in which they are interested will be their Swiss bank accounts) and that this desperate situation justifies the use of poison gas to try to stop the advance of the numerically superior Iranian army. Had they possessed nuclear weapons they would no doubt have used them . . . once again, even if they had signed a Convention banning them for which CND is pathetically campaigning.
Incidentally, the 1925 Geneva Convention bans the use, but not the manufacture or the stockpiling, of such weapons. Thus research into chemical and biological weapons (banned by a similar worthless Convention in 1972) continues in all the major states of the world, including Britain. These states also have stockpiles of such weapons: Russia’s is said to amount to 400.000 tonnes and America's to 150.000 tonnes. And of course it may well have been from one of these stockpiles that Iraq got its supplies, since exporting arms has always been one way of helping the balance of trade.
The fact is that, in a war-prone society divided into competing armed states it is quite unrealistic to expect that the use of particular weapons of war can be suppressed. As long as the drive to conflict and war exists—and under capitalism there will always be economic conflicts over markets, trade routes, investment outlets and sources of raw materials which will break out from time to time into open warfare — rulers will always be tempted to use all available weapons, including those that they may have formally agreed not to. Even if the manufacture and stockpiling of poison gas — or nuclear weapons — were also to be formally banned the knowledge of how to manufacture them never can be.
This is why the only way to prevent their use, and indeed of all weapons down to the rifle and the bow and arrow, is to create a society in which there would be no built-in tendency towards first economic and then military conflict. In other words to abolish capitalism and replace it by world socialism. This is why the only effective way to fight war and the threat of war is to struggle for world socialism, rather than flounder about in campaigns to try to ban particular weapons of war in a war-prone society.