Its time for action on Syria's chemical weapons,not pointing fingers

2017-04-07 11:45:39 | #nomi
Its time for action on Syria's chemical weapons,not pointing fingers
Itís time for action on Syriaís chemical weapons, not pointing fingers


On Tuesday, the world awoke to graphic images of dead and dying Syrian children, their pale, listless bodies bearing no marks of traumatic injury. These were the innocent victims of a chemical weapons (CW) attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib Province which, according to recent estimates, left at least 70 people dead, and constituted the worst attack since that in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta in August 2013 which claimed more than 1,200 lives.

This horrific attack is only the latest in scores of chemical munitions attacks either alleged or verified to have been conducted by the Syrian regime since 2014. Last year, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) officially concluded that the Syrian Arab Armed Forces were responsible for three chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015, in part because these attacks involved the use of helicopters (which only the Syrian government possesses) to deliver chlorine-laden munitions. Human Rights Watch documented at least eight other chemical attacks between November and December 2016 associated with the Syrian government’s assault on Aleppo. Since January 2017, the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria has also recorded eight alleged uses of chemical weapons.

Even so, on Feb 28, Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council Resolution designed to sanction parties verifiably assessed by the OPCW-UN joint investigative mission to have carried out chemical attacks. So is it any surprise that the Assad regime felt emboldened to continue using chemical weapons? Or that it has perhaps escalated to the use of even more toxic substances than chlorine, which has been its “go-to” chemical since the international community removed and destroyed its traditional military chemical arsenal in 2014?

This escalation in CW use fits a pattern observed on multiple occasions over the last several years. When the international community, particularly the US, seems distracted, the Syrian regime feels emboldened to seek battlefield gains through chemical attacks, particularly in areas where the regime’s military progress through more conventional means has stalled. Why does the Assad regime do this? Because it works.

It is insufficient to frame the casualties in these attacks solely in terms of those affected by chemical agents. First, the psychological effects of these chemical attacks, and the added risks they pose to children and the elderly, are devastating. Second, like many previous episodes, this one reportedly involves conventional targeting after the chemical attacks, which flushes civilians out of sheltered areas and makes them vulnerable to conventional bombing. To then target hospitals receiving the injured compounds the psychological effects. This two-pronged tactic ensures that besieged civilians feel they have no place to hide and nowhere to protect their children.

Much has been made of the symptomology and increased lethality of the Khan Sheikhoun attack, raising questions about a possible secret production capability or stockpile of undeclared chemical weapons — notably sarin. We should not engage in armchair diagnoses from YouTube videos. On-the-ground investigators can return a definitive assessment, and they need to be empowered to do their jobs. The use of sarin or other traditional warfare agents would clearly signal that Assad believes he can operate with impunity.

Chlorine — or any weaponised chemical used in this way — is just as heinous and legally prohibited. But nerve agents are more deadly and, unlike chlorine, require precursors that were supposed to be removed and destroyed in 2014. That process eliminated the majority of Syria’s military-scale chemical weapons programme, but we can never know if everything was removed — as Syria, with Russian cover, continues to stall, obfuscate, mislead, and otherwise violate international obligations. Moreover, the Syrians, with extensive military and scientific expertise in chemical weapons, are perfectly capable of developing improvised munitions and agents if they believe chlorine isn’t getting the job done. If it turns out that traditional military or improvised agents were used in these attacks, the implications are broader, and the audacity of the Syrian regime even more flagrant, but the crime is no more egregious.

We can debate what should have been done in the past, but it’s far more important to act now. We should expect such attacks to continue, and possibly increase, until international resistance builds and cleavages surface with the regime’s patron, Russia. Then, perhaps such chemical use will again temporarily recede. The international community must increase and sustain the pressure so that he is unwilling or unable to resume the attacks.

The US must push for action in the Security Council and hold Russia to account for shielding Assad’s atrocities. The Trump administration should insist on the immediate insertion of investigators on the ground to gather critical physical evidence, interview witnesses and victims, and ensure that the full record of these crimes is not lost.

The Russian theory that the massacre resulted from the bombing of a rebel-held chemical weapons storage facility seems highly implausible, but could be verified or refuted easily with a swift investigation.

In addition, the international community should demand the grounding of Syrian aircraft, particularly helicopters, which have served as the principle delivery vehicle for chemical munitions. Sanctions should target the Syrian government, and individuals and entities with links to these atrocities, at the organisational and individual level. The international community must support and develop a robust evidence repository and victim registration to ensure that these crimes are fully documented and evidence preserved in hopes that the arms of justice can reach these war criminals in the months and years to come.

Presidents inherit problems and unfinished business. President Barack Obama inherited two Middle East wars and an economic crisis of proportions not seen in decades. President Donald Trump has inherited a North Korean regime undaunted by international pressure and hell-bent on acquiring missile and nuclear capabilities to threaten the US. He has also inherited a catastrophic war in Syria in which atrocity and criminality seemingly have no limits.

Casting blame and pointing fingers will not save a single child’s life, bring justice to a single grieving mother, or return a single refugee to his home. Nor will it convince adversaries that the price to be paid for resorting to chemical weapons, or biological or nuclear weapons, will exceed any benefits from their use. Deterring future chemical weapons use requires hard work, tenacity, and, most importantly, leadership - not recrimination or revisionism. This is too important.


Tags: #Middle-East #

Latest News

What to Next

Dubai legal firm confirms legality of documents showing PM's employment status: report

A UAE-based legal firm has verified the contents of a report submitted to the Supreme Court by the joint investigation team (JIT), which states that P... More

Iran's president threatens response to new US sanctions

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Tehran would “respond appropriately” to new US sanctions but that Iran remained commi... More

UAE denies Washington Post report it orchestrated Qatar hack

The United Arab Emirates has denied a Washington Post report that claims the country orchestrated a hack of Qatari state news and social media website... More

Philippine leader to expedite bill for self-rule in Muslim region

MANILA:Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed on Monday to fast-track new legislation for autonomy in the country’s most volatile region, ad... More

Baghdadi almost certainly alive

SULAIMANIA: A top Kurdish counter-terrorism official said on Monday he was 99 per cent sure that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was alive and located ... More

Trump policy to hold meeting on South Asia

WASHINGTON: United States President Donald Trump is likely to meet his national security team this week to finalise his administration’s st... More

Qatar alleges Gulf rivals broke international law by hacking its websites

LONDON: The United Arab Emirates was not responsible for an alleged hack of Qatari websites which helped spark a month-long diplomatic rift with Doha,... More

Defiant Erdogan attacks EU, favours restoration of death penalty

ANKARA: President Tayyip Erd­ogan on Sunday defiantly stepped up his attacks on the European Union, saying Turkey had to go its own way and vowing... More

Sporadic clashes in Iraq Mosul after victory declaration

MOSUL, Iraq Sporadic clashes continued Tuesday in Mosul, a day after Iraq’s prime minister declared “total victory” over the Islamic... More

JIT report finds glaring discrepancies in Sharif family financial history

The Panamagate Joint Investigation Team (JIT), formed by the Supreme Court to investigate the Sharif family's business dealings, has found glaring... More