Syria’s Chem­i­cal Weapons, on Search for Suf­fi­cient Evi­dence

By: Ste­fan Koolen

 Accord­ing to the Con­ven­tion on the Pro­hi­bi­tion of the Devel­op­ment, Pro­duc­tion, Stock­pil­ing and Use of Chem­i­cal Weapons and on their Destruc­tion, 1993, the major­ity of the world’s coun­tries reached an agree­ment to abol­ish the use and pro­duc­tion of chem­i­cal weapons. How­ever, Syria was not a part of this agree­ment, along with few other coun­tries –includ­ing Egypt, Israel, Angola, Burma, North Korea, Soma­lia and South Sudan. Based on that broadly sup­ported agree­ment, the use of chem­i­cal weapons by the for­mer Iraqi régime of Sad­dam Hus­sein was explic­itly con­demned. There­fore, the reluc­tant atti­tude of the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity towards the reported use of chem­i­cal weapons by the Syr­ian régime recently could be a source of sus­pect regard­ing the cred­i­bil­ity of the inter­na­tional powers.

Chuck Hagel, US sec­re­tary of defense, already issued a state­ment claim­ing that there is a strong indi­ca­tion to the use of chem­i­cal weapons in Syria (sarin gas), but ver­i­fi­ca­tion is needed. A cru­cial ques­tion to pro­pose with regard to this issue is whether fur­ther ver­i­fi­ca­tion is needed indeed. Is there no enough evidence?

First of all, some facts need to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion: 1) Syria pos­sesses chem­i­cal weapons. 2) The Syr­ian régime has ear­lier threat­ened with the use of those weapons against for­eign inter­ven­tion (NY Times, July 23, 2012). 3) Syria claimed that chem­i­cal weapons have been used (although they claimed the “for­eign backed” Free Syr­ian Army or FSA used them). 4) Syria con­sid­ers the rebels for­eign­ers or for­eign backed fight­ers. 5) The régime has a track record involv­ing the use of non-​discriminatory, from any point of view dis­pro­por­tion­ate, weapons, capa­ble of killing many “inno­cent” cit­i­zens (i.e. Hama, 1982). 6) The régime does not allow inde­pen­dent backed observers into con­flict areas and finally. 7) Syria has not signed the rel­e­vant treaty for­bid­ding chem­i­cal weapons.

Recently, ARA News reported a chem­i­cal attack in Aleppo on April 24, reveal­ing some details on the inci­dent. The reporter him­self suf­fered some strange phys­i­cal prob­lems and res­i­dents claimed a heli­copter fired a rocket. A Reuters’ pho­tog­ra­pher observed many patients in Aleppo “suf­fer­ing breath­ing prob­lems, who told him there was chlo­rine in the air imme­di­ately after the attack in Khan al-​Assal” (Voice of Amer­ica, March 19, 2013). These are not the only reports about the use of chem­i­cal weapons in Syria. Other reports uncov­ered the use of those weapons in the city of Homs as well.

Thus, if we recon­sider what has already been said in the course of this arti­cle, it seems to me that there is a sit­u­a­tion that con­firms, as cred­i­ble as can be, that chem­i­cal weapons have been used by the régime. No com­pa­ra­ble evi­dence can be deliv­ered against the FSA. I do not think fur­ther evi­dence is pos­si­ble and that the lack of “inde­pen­dent” con­fir­ma­tion is a result of the régime’s atti­tude towards the inter­na­tional community.

Cur­rently, inter­na­tional lead­ers seem reluc­tant or extremely care­ful in claim­ing the use of those weapons by any side in the con­flict. Unfor­tu­nately, it seems that the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity is more occu­pied with pol­i­tics than with a clear and just pol­icy towards Syria in order to pro­tect the Syr­i­ans. The search for evi­dence is, in my opin­ion, not really a search for the evi­dence itself, since there is suf­fi­cient, but a way to cre­ate more time and gather sup­port. Syria con­tin­ues to be a vic­tim of the inter­ests and atti­tudes from other states, like Rus­sia, Turkey and the US. As a result, Syria seems to be a topic for an end­less debate among inter­na­tional deci­sion makers.

An inter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion con­cern­ing the use of chem­i­cal weapons in Syria may fol­low the war, but most likely on the basis of the same evi­dence in hand at the moment. 

Source: ARA News

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