August, 100 years ago: the Hun from the east invaded little, neutral Belgium. In the opening weeks of the campaign the Hun was not a good boy. He wilfully executed civilians, raped women, destroyed historical monuments and burned down university libraries—all war crimes that have been extensively documented. The worst barbarian acts, however, he committed against babies. He cut off their hands, so that the grownup man could never take up arms against the Hunnic master. Worse, he tossed them in the air and caught them on his bayonet. Alas, each investigated claim proved to be a myth. Meanwhile, many a Brit had enlisted to revenge the ‘Rape of Belgium’.
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.
On 28 October, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon presented the first report on the destruction of chemical weapons (CW) in Syria to the UN Security Council (UNSC). The document also included the report by Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü to the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The monthly submissions are required under paragraph 12 of UNSC Resolution 2118. Both officials recorded significant progress since the adoption of the key decisions by the OPCW Executive Council and the UNSC on 27 September. They noted Syria’s cooperation, and listed the challenges ahead and the requirements to be able to meet the final destruction deadline of mid-2014.
Syria crisis: Assad sets out chemicals plan timeline
BBC World, 12 September 2013 Last updated at 16:45 GMT
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has given the first indication of a timeline for placing its chemical weapons under international control.
He told Russian TV that Syria would apply to join a UN chemicals convention “in the next few days” and submit arms data a month after signing.
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).
The BBC carries very graphic footage of the aftermath of an incendiary bomb dropped by a fighter jet on to a school playground in the north of Syria. Scores of children have napalm-like burns over their bodies.
An incendiary weapon is not a chemical weapon as defined by the Chemical Weapons Convention, because it harms humans through heat rather than the direct effects of poisoning. They include weapons such as napalm or white phosphorus.
Incendiary weapons are banned by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention), Protocol III. Article I defines an incendiary weapon as follows:
With the horrific events of the past two days in several Damascus suburbs dominating the airwaves and press reports, the ability to establish rough time lines of events and more detailed circumscriptions of the areas affected allows more and more to conclude that several more or less simultaneous chemical weapon (CW) attacks took place in the very early morning hours of 21 August. While the number of casualties — affected survivors and fatalities — is impossible to establish right now, it is clear that scores, if not hundreds of people fell victim to some asphyxiant. Several chemical warfare agents are liquids. The evaporation of droplets after their release creates a toxic cloud that is typically heavier than air. It would seep through any cavity into lower-lying spaces. Many reports indicate that people were sleeping in basements to shelter from nightly shelling. This may account for the large number women and children casualties.
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.