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The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under customary international humanitarian law.Chemical warfare is different from the use of conventional weapons or nuclear weapons because the destructive effects of chemical weapons are not primarily due to any explosive force.The entire class known as Lethal Unitary Chemical Agents and Munitions have been scheduled for elimination by the CWC.Under the Convention, chemicals that are toxic enough to be used as chemical weapons, or that may be used to manufacture such chemicals, are divided into three groups according to their purpose and treatment: Ancient Greek myths about Hercules poisoning his arrows with the venom of the Hydra monster are the earliest references to toxic weapons in western literature.

The modern notion of chemical warfare emerged from the mid-19th century, with the development of modern chemistry and associated industries.The earliest recorded use of gas warfare in the West dates back to the fifth century BC, during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta.Spartan forces besieging an Athenian city placed a lighted mixture of wood, pitch, and sulfur under the walls hoping that the noxious smoke would incapacitate the Athenians, so that they would not be able to resist the assault that followed.Many nations possess vast stockpiles of weaponized agents in preparation for wartime use.The threat and the perceived threat have become strategic tools in planning both measures and counter-measures.

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