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Syria: A rogue state’s new low

As grim as the headlines may be, the world is safer than it was a generation ago when it comes to chemical weapons


 

(Ammar Dar/Reuters)

Update: John Kerry has said samples from those first on the scene in Damascus on Aug. 21 have tested positive for sarin gas exposure. The U.S. Secretary of State made and repeated the comments on Sunday-morning talk shows.

The scenes from what was almost certainly a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held Damascus suburbs were horrific. People writhing in agony, some foaming at the mouth, lifeless bodies sprawled on the streets where they fell; dead children lined in a neat row in a makeshift morgue. The Aug. 21 attack, in which at least 10 rockets slammed into communities outside the government-controlled Syrian capital, injured hundreds if not thousands, while estimates of the dead range from 355 to more than 1,300.

For days the Syrian government delayed access to the areas by United Nations chemical weapons inspectors already present in Damascus, making it difficult to collect credible evidence to confirm what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calls Syria’s “undeniable” role in the attack. Finally on Monday, Aug. 26, a UN convoy was allowed in, although one of the vehicles came under sniper fire in the buffer zone between the two warring camps.

Washington and most Western powers dismiss denials by President Bashar al-Assad’s government that it gassed its own people. If verified, it’s the largest use of chemical weapons since 1988, when Iraq used mustard gas and nerve agents, killing as many as 5,000 Kurds in the north of the country. The Syrian attack may yet force U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western allies into a military response no one has much stomach for.

It’s long been suspected Syria has a cache of a nerve agent, most likely sarin, an odorless, colourless toxin. Certainly the symptoms match observations by representatives of Doctors Without Borders, who reported patients with convulsions, excessive saliva, poor vision and breathing difficulties. The man-made chemical breaks down an enzyme that allows nerves to communicate, creating a massive short-circuit that results in confusion, convulsions, paralysis and death. Aid workers saw no evidence of the burn-like blistering that results from mustard gas, part of the arsenal Saddam Hussein loosed on the Kurds.

As grim as the news is, though, the world is a safer place today than it was a generation ago when it comes to the threat of chemical weapons. For all the cynicism attached to resolutions from UN and other world bodies, one of the most effective disarmament treaties ever reached came into force with the signing in Paris in January 1993 of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It took 20 years of negotiations to put in place the first multilateral treaty aiming to ban an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. The treaty began with 87 so-called “states parties.” By this June, when Somalia signed on, the number had grown to 189 member states.

More than 98 per cent of the world’s population now lives under the umbrella of the convention, and almost 80 per cent of all declared chemical weapons stocks have been verified as destroyed, says the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which implements the treaty.

Full compliance hasn’t been achieved, obviously, as the Syrian slaughter confirms. The rogue state is among seven countries that have not acceded to the convention. Besides Syria, the holdouts are Angola, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan. Both Israel and Burma were signatories, but they’ve never ratified the treaty and aren’t bound by it. Several of those states are suspected of having chemical weapons programs. One known offender is North Korea, which has had goods seized that were destined for Syria’s program.

No toothless tiger, the treaty carries binding protocols for verifying the destruction of existing stockpiles, as well as a unique mechanism of “challenge inspections,” allowing one member state to trigger an inspection of another signatory if it doubts compliance. “States parties have committed themselves to the principle of ‘any time, anywhere’ inspections with no right of refusal,” says The Hague-based implementation organization. The treaty’s very strength may be its weakness in the eyes of non-signatory nations who don’t want outsiders mucking about in their arsenals or critiquing their tactics.

Today, chemical weapons merit near-universal condemnation in part because of the appalling toll taken by chlorine and mustard gas in the trench warfare of the First World War. Some 124,000 tonnes of chemicals were dispersed, killing 90,000 people and injuring one million, many of whom lived with the effects for the rest of their lives. During the 1920s, the League of Nations drafted a Geneva protocol banning chemical and biological warfare. While chemical weapon use was drastically curtailed in the Second World War, it didn’t stop governments of every stripe from stockpiling chemical weapons and their delivery systems as a defensive measure.

Canada played a top-secret wartime role in such weapons production at the Chemical Warfare Laboratories in Ottawa, at the massive experimental station at CFB Suffield, Alta., and at a biological facility on Grosse-Île, Que., which produced anthrax for Britain and the U.S. Postwar, Canada, its allies and Russia dumped thousands of tonnes of chemical weapons into the oceans, still a potential environmental time bomb. Canada destroyed the last of its land-based caches of nerve agents in 1989 and 1991, as it readied to sign the chemical weapons convention.

The treaty spurred the U.S. to launch an estimated $24-billion program to destroy its caches. In 2003, Maclean’s toured one of the U.S.’s largest sites, the heavily guarded Umatilla Chemical Depot in northeastern Oregon. It was an otherworldly scene of rows of earth-mounded concrete “igloos” holding 2,800 tonnes of mustard blister agent, sarin and VX. A multi-billion-dollar incinerator destroyed the last of those weapons just two years ago. Two U.S. storage sites, in Kentucky and Colorado, are preparing to destroy the country’s remaining stock, a dangerous and environmentally challenging project.

If the U.S. and other allies do attack Syria, how to deal with its chemical weapons? Bombing storage facilities, if they are found, has the potential to unleash a chemical nightmare. Yet if the weapons aren’t destroyed, a spokesman for the Syrian regime gave a chilling warning last year. Such weapons won’t be used, he said, “unless Syria is exposed to external aggression.”


 

Syria: A rogue state’s new low

  1. The Syrian government knows use of chemical weapons would likely lead to US/Western intervention – but so do the rebels. Let’s not forget the rebels have already tried to fabricate evidence before, have committed human rights violations, and are linked to Al Queda.

    Do I think the evidence this time is fabricated? I really don’t know what to believe but the West has nothing to gain by intervening except a hollow sense of moral superiority.

    • The evidence is always fabricated, its like watching old WWF wrestling… they fight it out, but its always a big joke, they have beers backstage afterward, only idiots buy it.

  2. Ahh but we’re so keen to tell others what to do and how to live that we deliberately forget babies being taken out of incubators, and a previous gassing, and that more Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan than in 9/11. In spite of all the 9/11 attackers being dead for over a dozen years.

    The war drums are being beaten once again….well except for Israel and Saudi Arabia of course….but anyone else is fair game.

    • Controlled opposition. Just another war to support NWO. Lemmings and sheep, line up for another sacrifice.

      • Not any NWO….same old world as before.

  3. Yes. Of course.
    Why stop Syria, which has a long history, like other Middle Eastern dictatorships, of arresting and torturing political dissidents, plus killing unarmed civilians, from continuing in this fine tradition.
    Your comments reveal the fact that you’re just a couple of moral lepers intent on rationalizing the slaughter of women and children. Maybe you both should get a taste of what poison gas is like. Oh, and of course the rest of us could ignore your pleas for humanitarian and medical assistance, because we just couldn’t be bothered enough to care.

    • Widespread killing is terrible by any means, though. Looking at the past decade of the middle east, there’s just not much hope that anything we do will have long-term positive effects. If we could be assured of long term positive change, sure, send over the jets, but there’s just no indication of that any more.

    • Well one has to be consistent, why not attack North Korea? here is also a crazy dictator that starves his people in order to produce nukes which he has proven to have and not even a firecracker was thrown his way. When his daddy got upset, he had his artillery wipe out a South-Korean island so he gets some attention and instead of getting cruise-missiled, he got economic reliefs from Uncle Sam.

      As for the arabs, why don’t THEY help each other? more then 50% of the weapons sold in the world are sold in the Middle East, and the Saudis buy the largest share. Why don’t they send their weapons to their “muslim brothers”? Why does it have to be the West that goes to help ?
      Because we all know what is going to happen, after the secular blood thirsty dictator is ousted, he will be replaced with a bearded blood thirsty theocratic monkey that will be more then happy to kill “crusaders”.
      The West should not get involved in any way in this region of the World. It’s plain stupid to get between two fighting dogs.

      • This comment was deleted.

  4. Israel wants the USA to eliminate it’s biggest regional military competitors.

    • Removing the Assad regime does not help Israel.

    • More likely Saudi Arabia than Israel.

      The Saudi’s flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and got the United States to attack one of Saudi Arabia’s mortal enemies, Saddam’s Iraq. They knew the PNAC crew was itching to take on Iraq, and lit a match to give them an excuse.

      Now the Saudi’s supplied and trained their allies in the Syrian rebels with nerve gas to induce the United States to attack another of their mortal enemies, Assad’s Syria. The Saudi’s and Qatar are financing and arming the rebels in Syria. Chemical weapons get the R2P progressives into the type of war frenzy of the PNAC crowd.

      The Saudi’s have figured out how to press the buttons of the neo-imperialists on the right and on the progressive fronts in the West.

      The war on Syria is about further isolation of Iran, getting oil from Kurdistan to Haifa (and away from any control by Iraqi Shia), and a Qatari gas pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Western Iraq, and Syria to Europe, avoiding the Straits of Hormuz.

      Now there are two pipelines, one oil, and one natural gas, that Obama is thrilled about supporting, even going to war for.

  5. The chemicals were released by the rebel forces not the government.

    • Yes. We all know that you were there to confirm it.

      • Problem, reaction, solution. Put the puzzle pieces together. Who cares if thousands die, but when gas it used, suddenly its time to go go go?
        NWO big time joke. Fool.

        • LOL.
          For someone who seems to have all the answers you’re grasp of grammar is barely at a grade two level. But keep trying putz, I’m sure that in time you’ll be able puzzle the pieces together.

        • The use and even the existence of chemical weapons is a problem. A chemical weapon can be release and decimate an area then disperse leaving little or no evidence, with all the buildings and infrastructure intact.

  6. Why is everyone so quick to jump to conclusions? The UN investigation isn’t even over and everyone suddenly starts beating the drums of war? It doesn’t make any sense why they would attack right when the inspectors are no more than 20 minutes away. This war is so messy, too many people have too many interests in syria.

    • because they don’t care, this is a small test. The world agrees chemical weapons were used and the world is doing nothing.

      What is going to happen now if Iran/North Korea test a nuclear device….nothing.

  7. The rebels did use Chemical Weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia. A number of stories are out by credible sources showing this.

  8. I am tired of Canadian News outlets pushing USA propaganda without questioning it. Remember the USA has lied to the World many times in it’s past and current history.

  9. The media just loves a good WAR. Propaganda and entertainment all the way.

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