Monday, September 23, 2013

Should the United States Intervene Militarily in Syria Over the Assad Regime's Use of Chemical Weapons?

The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) prohibits the production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, retention, and use of chemical weapons (classified as WMD under Title 50, USC). Syria is not a signatory.

A UN inspection team reported that the nerve agent sarin, a fluorinated organophosphate, was used in the Ghouta area of Damascus on 21 August 2013. Some 3600 people were affected; 355 died. The U.S. presented convincing evidence that the Bashar al-Assad government was responsible for the attack. Assad denies this.

Assad also denied having chemical weapons, but has now agreed, as part of a US - Russia brokered deal, to sign the CWC and place his chemical weapons under the control of the UN-affiliated Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Syria has already submitted an initial declaration outlining its inventory of chemical weapons to the OPCW.

Identifying all of Syria’s chemical weapons and chemical weapons manufacturing facilities and materiel will be a massive undertaking fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, the process should be allowed to proceed under the auspices of the OPCW. US military intervention in Syria should be undertaken only as a last resort, should the Assad government fail to abide by its CWC obligations.

The US should now concentrate its efforts on effecting a ceasefire in the Syrian civil war, in which, according to UN estimates, over 100,000 people have been killed.

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