The proliferation of chemical weapons and the military utility of chemical warfare: A case study of the Iran-Iraq War

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Edwin Bock


third world, national security

Subject Categories

International Relations


The proliferation of chemical weapons and the military utility of chemical warfare: A case study of the Iran-Iraq War examines whether the Iraqi use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War supports the perception that chemical weapons are a viable national defense option due to their military utility and effectiveness. The question of the military utility of chemical weapons is important because their perceived utility is a salient reason why the proliferation of these weapons to Third World countries is a growing problem. Although the history of chemical warfare has shown chemical weapons to be low utility weapons, their use by the Iraqis has led many to conclude that chemical weapons are indeed of significant military utility.

Since chemical weapons were not significantly effective in past conflicts, this has led to an important question; was the utility of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War so much greater as to raise the desirability of pursuing the acquisition of them as part of a nation's national security policy? If the incentives to acquire chemical weapons are indeed based upon their military utility, and if the recent drive to acquire chemical weapons was stimulated by reports about their use in the Iran-Iraq War, then the evidence about the actual military effectiveness of Iraqi use of chemical weapons in that war has to be examined. This dissertation provides that examination.

This study concludes that, as in other conflicts in which there was chemical warfare, the chemical weapons used in the Iran-Iraq War were of very limited military utility. They were not strategically significant or war-winning weapons. This study demonstrates that there is nothing to indicate that the utility of chemical weapons in this war was any different, or certainly not any greater, than in past conflicts. This evidence should give nations the confidence to forgo the military option of possessing chemical weapons in favor of pursuing the political option of reducing the threat of chemical weapons, by the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.


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