The Pori Brigade, a unit of the Finnish Army, will begin using genuine chemical warfare agents including mustard gas and sarin in defence training, a first in Finland.
According to Finnish defence officials, the main idea of the new chemical warfare drill is to equip soldiers with the combat skills required in an authentic environment. Previously, only substitute chemicals were used.
The Pori Brigade will earmark a separate area for the chemical warfare drills. The exercises will be the first of its kind in Finland. Around three hectares of land will be used as a training area this autumn, and exercises for military personnel will begin in January 2020. Instructions on chemical warfare will also be provided to other authorities, according to the army. The Pori Brigade will become the only entity in the country to provide instruction concerning chemical weapons.
The army assured that while these chemicals are potentially lethal to humans and hazardous to the environment, the drill will pose no threat to either the surrondings or even bystanders.
So far, Finland has not used any chemical substances that fall under the UN Chemical Weapons Convention. The Convention, however, allows the use of chemical weapons in military exercises, an opportunity used by other countries.
Mustard gas, or sulfur mustard, was pioneered by the German Army in 1915 and widely used in World War I. Back then, it was known as yperite after the Belgian town of Ypres where it was first used. It was also used by British troops against the Red Army in 1919. Mustard gas can form large blisters on exposed skin and in the lungs and is also a known carcinogenic. Exposure to the mustard agent is lethal in about 1 percent of cases. Simple protection measures such as gas masks are ineffective, since it can be absorbed through the skin.
Sarin, classed as a weapon of mass destruction, is a synthetic compound nerve agent that can be lethal even in very low concentrations. Unless victims receive an antidote quickly, they generally suffocate from lung muscle paralysis when exposed to the substance. It was developed in the late 1930s in Nazi Germany, but was never used in World War II.
Chemical warfare was outlawed by the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and was again prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.