International Organization

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A genealogy of the chemical weapons taboo

Richard Price

How is it, that among the countless technological innovations in weaponry, chemical weapons stand out as weapons that carry the stigma of moral illegitimacy. To provide an adequate account of the prohibitionary norm against chemical weapons use, one must understand the meanings that have served to constitute and delegitimize this category of weapons. Such an account is provided by genealogy, a method that examines the interpretive practices around which moral orders are constructed and behaviors are defined as normal or unacceptable. The genealogical method yields insights that illuminate neglected dimensions of the chemical weapons taboo: namely, the roles that contingency, domination, and resistance have played in the operation of this norm as a symbol of “uncivilized” conduct in international relations.