The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Warfare (OPCW) is about to investigate the various allegations of the use of chlorine in Syria over the past few weeks. It is the right decision. It is the only decision possible in view of the many witness accounts and footage available on internet sites. However, the hope that the announcement of the fact-finding mission on 29 April might deter the perpetrator from future chlorine attacks was quickly dashed: a new chlorine bombing took place a day later.
Today is the 99th anniversary of the first massive chemical warfare attack. The agent of choice was chlorine. About 150 tonnes of the chemical was released simultaneously from around 6,000 cylinders over a length of 7 kilometres just north of Ypres. Lutz Haber—son of the German chemical warfare pioneer, Fritz Haber—described the opening scenes in his book The Poisonous Cloud (Clarendon Press, 1986):
The cloud advanced slowly, moving at about 0.5 m/sec (just over 1 mph). It was white at first, owing to the condensation of the moisture in the surrounding air and, as the volume increased, it turned yellow-green. The chlorine rose quickly to a height of 10–30 m because of the ground temperature, and while diffusion weakened the effectiveness by thinning out the gas it enhanced the physical and psychological shock. Within minutes the Franco-Algerian soldiers in the front and support lines were engulfed and choking. Those who were not suffocating from spasms broke and ran, but the gas followed. The front collapsed.
Since acceding the the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) last month, Syria has submitted detailed declarations about its chemical weapon (CW) holdings and activities. While confidential, details of the composition of the CW arsenal have emerged from documents published by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In particular, the publication of a request for expression of interest (EOI) by the commercial industry to dispose of certain toxic materials or their effluents has shed some light on Syria’s declarations.
This is the first of a four-part series analysing the international reactions to the chemical attacks in Damascus on 21 August. Part 2 addresses how the public intelligence assessments have been used to try and justify military interventions against Syrian forces and military installations. Part 3 attempts to construct a counter-factual argument in order to determine whether insurgent forces can be held responsible for the chemical attacks. Part 4 investigates the consequences of international reactions for the future of the norm against chemical weapons (CW).
The US State Department has just published the Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013 and a map of the suburbs affected.
This is the first credible account of events released by any government. Credible, because it contains assertions and caveats, but most importantly, because its details are falsifiable. The elements can be verified against other sources, most notably the preliminary report of the UN investigative team, which should be with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon within the next 72 hours or so (Sunday or Monday).
As I am writing, disturbing news reports are coming in of a major интернете? chemical attack on the eastern eastern outskirts of Damascus (Ghouta district). According to images and film footage posted to the Internet by opponents to the al-Assad regime, many casualties, including fatalities can be seen. Supplementary visual testimony strongly indicates poisoning.
[Images are graphic and should be viewed with caution!]
In past blog postings and commentaries I have been sceptical of CW wholesale nfl jerseys claims, because the narrative accompanying images and film footage did not correspond with what could be seen. More importantly, a number of things one would expect to see after a CW attack were missing. Some stories as they appeared in the press just did not add up. (Recall how the initial reports on the March attack referred to chlorine, while today everybody seems to insist that it was sarin.) While there were indicators of exposure to toxicants, the evidence lacked density and there were many alternative plausible explanations for the cheap mlb jerseys symptoms. The United Kingdom, France, the United States and Russia supplied evidence (including analyses of samples taken out of Syria) to the United Nations in support of their request to investigate multiple allegations, but offered no concrete details to the public. Furthermore, as those samples had not been analysed in other than national laboratories and government representatives were referring to ‘their evidence’ to buttress arguments in support of military intervention or arming the insurgents, the spectre of the Iraq invasion ten years ago sufficed to retain a healthy dose of scepticism.