Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

The Dishonor in Chemical Weapons

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

The Dishonor in Chemical Weapons

Article excerpt

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons received the Nobel Peace Prize last fall partly as agitprop to promote the safekeeping group's long-held goal of disarmament. The security watchdog was established in 1997 as the implementer of the Chemical Weapons Convention from 1993 and is backed by the United Nations. The OPCW includes 190 member states that comprise 98 percent of the global population and landmass and 98 percent of the worldwide chemical industry.1 The Nobel press release, in praising the OPCW's work vis-à-vis what is "taboo under international law," alluded to chemical weapons unleashed last summer in war-torn Syria, underlining "the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons."2

Almost 1,500 civilians died then from exposure to sarin gas in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta, and President Bashar al-Assad's government drew suspicion as the culprit, despite its denials.3"4 "This is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja (Iraq) in 1988," said U.N. SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon, announcing findings of U.N. investigators, without attributing blame.5 Days after the OPCW won the Nobel, Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention.6

Why did a chemical weapon receive as much attention as the victims themselves in the threeyear civil war in which, depending on the source, at least 100,000 and perhaps more than 130,000 people have died7 and upwards of onethird of the prewar population has been displaced?8 Why did the Nobel committee castigate Syria, among other countries, for atrocities? Because military honor - and international law - were broken. Vanquishing opposition through chemical weapons - toxicity delivered through munitions9 - is abhorrent, soldiers and civilians concur, but sometimes utilized despite and because of the gruesome efficacy.

An imperative for eradicating chemical weapons is that they are indiscriminate upon diffusion, summarizes former FBI special agent Don Borelli.10 "Modern weaponry, while it's grown more lethal, has also grown more precise," but the vast dispersal inherent in chemical weapons "can produce horror for a lifetime," adds onetime Pentagon official Michael Rubin, and can circumvent the parameters - even boundaries - of warfare.11

Not every expert agrees. Dominic Tierney, a political scientist at Swarthmore College and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, contends that "the distinction between chemical weapons and conventional weapons is arbitrary, really. It is not clear that chemical weapons are more brutal than conventional weapons. ... After all, conventional weapons have killed 100,000 Syrians. Chemical weapons killed l.OOO."42

Still, international mandate forbids chemical weapons. The 1925 Geneva Protocol13 and the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction14 are main deterrents, with most countries consenting. The Chemical Weapons Convention strengthened these strictures.15 The OPCW is supposed to complete the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons by next month, although there have been delays.16 Israel and Myanmar have not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, and Angola, Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan have neither signed nor acceded to it.17

Do these restrictions really safeguard the world? Do countries heed and enforce them? Yes, but with caveats. …

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