Chemical Weapons and the Situation in Syria

chemical weapon

A civil war has been raging for two years in Syria. President Bashar al-Assad has been losing ground and popularity within the country as rebel factions have been fighting to liberate the country from his regime’s control. However, the rebel forces are not united and have been prone to fighting amongst themselves. Amidst the turmoil, extremist organizations have entered the fray to further their own agendas.

Although rebel factions control between 60 to 70 percent of the total area of Syria at this time, 60 percent of the population live in Assad-controlled regions. That’s because rebel forces have more influence in the less populous, rural regions of the country. As of now, the Assad regime is backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Although world democratic leaders have called for Assad to step down, these countries have yet to provide the aid and weapons rebels deem necessary to accomplish their goals. Countries like the U.K. and U.S. are hesitant to supply weapons due to fears that they may fall into the hand of extremists. But what about the weapons already in Syria and those developed by the Assad regime?

Evidence of chemical warfare

John Hatzadony, Ph.D., director of security policy studies at Notre Dame College, advises that “the biggest threat to the U.S. in terms of the Syrian chemical and biological weapons arsenal is them falling into the wrong hands … Syrian weapons delivery systems cannot reach the U.S., although Israel is certainly in range.”

While the Syrian government denies that it has employed chemical warfare tactics, there is strong evidence that the Assad regime has utilized chemical weapons against rebel factions. The British Parliament believes sarin, a colorless, odorless and tasteless nerve agent, has been used. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. In light of this evidence, the U.K. has stated it will provide over 5,000 escape hoods, nerve agent pre-treatment tablets and chemical weapons detector paper to the Syrian National Coalition in early August.

This past week, the U.S. confirmed that it believes Syria has used sarin on a small scale multiple times over the past year. U.S. intelligence estimates that 100 to 150 people have died as a result of chemical attacks. Since the beginning of Syrian unrest, President Barack Obama has said using chemical warfare would be a “game changer” in Syria.

However, as the U.S. contemplates its next steps, it should be considered a very real possibility that both weapons already in Syria, including chemical agents, and any aid supplied to the Syrian rebels may fall into the hands of extremists. Consequently, the U.S. and other democratic countries have not acted. Syrian rebel forces report that they have not received aid or weapons from the U.S.

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