NBC Weapons: Going Old School In Syria




March 22, 2016: Despite continued denials by the Syrian government most observers believe the continued use of chlorine as a chemical weapon in Syria is often the work of the Syrian government, not just Islamic terrorists trying to discredit the government. The UN cannot act because Russia is an ally of Syria and has a veto over UN efforts to punish the Syrian government for this. Like everything else in Syria, this is not a simple situation. First of all although the first chemical weapon attack in modern history, in 1915, used 168 tons of chlorine gas, the current Chemical Weapons Convention does not recognize chlorine as a chemical weapon. Then, as now, chlorine proved to be an inefficient chemical weapon and was quickly replaced by more effective ones by the end of 1915. Like other lethal industrial chemicals chlorine can be lethal to humans in large quantities. Thus during 2015 the 66 known uses of chlorine as weapon killed 24 people but injured over 600. In March 2015 agreed to abide by a new UN rule prohibiting the use of chlorine as a weapon. Nearly 90 percent of the known chlorine attacks in 2015 occurred after March.

In September 2013 Syria agreed to destroy all its chemical weapons under UN supervision. This deal was not vetoed by Russia because Syria was obviously responsible for a chemical attack in August that used nerve gas and killed over 1,300 people, most of them pro-rebel civilians. Some of the chlorine attacks since then apparently have been the work of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) but most appear to be the work of Syrian government forces using aircraft, artillery or mortars.

The agreed upon destruction of Syrian chemical weapons was completed by June 2014. Syria appeared to have had 700 tons of nerve gas (sarin) and 300 tons of mustard gas and all these were destroyed by the UN. Nerve gas was first used in combat during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). The Assads knew that once they defeated the rebels they could rebuild the plants that manufacture the nerve and mustard gas and rebuild their pre-rebellion stocks in a few years.


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