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Has Syria Done Anything Illegal If They’ve Used Chemical Weapons?

Not that we’ve particularly observed the rule of law in Syria in recent years but still, it’s an important question. We all generally think that the use of chemical weapons is illegal – this isn’t necessarily so. It depends what the government concerned has signed up to. This is akin to those perennial whines about Israel and atomic bombs. Why aren’t they subject to the same sanctions that, say, Iran was?

The answer being that Iran signed up to a treaty which said they wouldn’t, Israel didn’t. Under international law therefore we have to have actions (not necessarily sanctions) against Iran and we can if we wish but don’t have to against Israel.

Yes, this does matter:

President Trump responded Sunday to reports of a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma, blaming Syrian President Bashar Assad and his international allies for the apparent attack that left dozens dead and hundreds injured. In some of his most critical comments directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin to date, Mr. Trump threatened that there’s a “big price … to pay” for those backing the Assad regime.

The point being that if Assad has been breaking this international law about chemical weapons then we really are all supposed to do something about it:

The British government also condemned the Syrian government and its backers.

“These are very concerning reports of a chemical weapons attack with significant number of casualties, which if correct, are further proof of Assad’s brutality against innocent civilians and his backers’ callous disregard for international norms,” said a statement from the Foreign Ministry. “An urgent investigation is needed and the international community must respond. We call on the Assad regime and its backers, Russia and Iran, to stop the violence against innocent civilians.”

Again, the point is the use of chemical weapons or not – their use would mean that we’ve, under the relevant treaties at least, got to do something. A government killing its own citizenry doesn’t mean that.

That means we should consider whether Syria, assuming they have used chemical weapons, should be punished for having done so. Or are they in the position Israelis in? They didn’t sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty concerning atomic bombs and so, while any country can argue as it likes, there’s no insistence that sanctions must be applied given that they do have  bomb or 12. Iran had signed that treaty, therefore sanctions should have been applied when they tried (or succeeded, not sure myself).

The answer is Syria has signed the relevant treaty but only just:

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is an arms control treaty that outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and their precursors.

In September 2013 Syria acceded to the convention as part of an agreement for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

That makes their use or not a big deal – over and above the shock and horror of their use that is. Which is why there’s going to be such argument about whether they were used and if so, who by, of course.

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Rhoda Klapp
Rhoda Klapp
6 years ago

We should really consider the possibility that this is a false flag or maybe entirely fake incident. Syria knows what happens when it is accused of using chemicals. The rebels know too. They are in a desperate position so using fake pics (no western TV news outlet can resist showing them) is an effective tactic for them where you’d think the returns for Assad would be negative. The right thing for the rebels to do is surrender. Instead they are prepared to fight to the last civilian. We should be cynical and sceptical about this whole thing.

maguro part deux
maguro part deux
6 years ago
Reply to  Rhoda Klapp

Tend to agree, the whole thing seems like a propaganda op similar to the whole Iraqi soldiers disconnecting incubators thing from the first Gulf War. It’s very convenient for all the neocon warmongers in Washington to have this atrocity pop up just when Trump is trying to disengage in Syria.

Jason Lynch
Jason Lynch
6 years ago

There’s another wrinkle: that the reporting on the attack strongly suggests the agent used was chlorine. This gets into the grey area between “chemical weapons” and the precursors to produce them, which are tightly controlled; and “toxic industrial chemicals” which are produced in large quantities for legitimate purposes (but are still nasty and can be used as weapons), as well as lowering the technical barrier for who could obtain and use the stuff.

6 years ago

Yarp. Every time Trump signals he wants to pull the US out of the Syrian quagmire, that evil madman Assad – who otherwise seems sane and rational in trying to defeat the Islamic extremists trying to take over his country – suddenly “gasses his own people!!!!1! :-(”

Funny how that works. As with the Skripal narrative, we’re supposed to forget about evidence, balance of probabilities, and cui bono?

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