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One of the less discussed and debated issue encompassing the field of conflict, security and diplomacy has suddenly come to the forefront of global strategic discourse due to the ongoing conflict in Syria and that is the issue of Chemical Weapons. Realizing that the Chemical Weapons could be used in Syria in the ongoing conflict, few months back the United States (US) had threatened to launch a military attack against Syria for crossing the so called ‘red line’ if such usage takes place. This was notified by the US President Barack Obama who on April 30, 2013. He had issued a statement that the US would “…take military action against Syria if hard, effective evidence is found of use of chemical weapons and if Syria crosses the chemical weapons red line”.


Fortunately, it appears that the invasion of Syria by the US forces has been stopped, at least temporarily. An agreement on chemical weapons in Syria has been reached by mid of September 2013 following the talks held in Geneva between the Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey V. Lavrov, and US Secretary of State John Kerry. This agreement is expected to facilitate the fulfillment of obligations by Syria deriving from the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which it has decided to join. The CWC represents the sole multilateral mechanism to rid the world of chemical weapons and now Syria has agreed to cooperate with the United Nation’s (UN) agency which deals with the issues concerning the abolition of chemical weapons.


The issue of chemical weapons has been at the forefront of the Syrian conflict. The ongoing Syrian civil war could be said to have started around March 2011, initially with anti-government street protests and finally reaching to a stage of a bloody conflict. It was reported for the first time during December 2012 that chemical weapons were probably used in Syrian cities of Homs and Aleppo. Subsequently, the largest use of chemical weapons perhaps took place on March 19, 2013 in the area of Khan al-Asal. Around 40 deaths in this area were attributed to chemical weapons. The biggest massacre by the use of chemical weapons happened on August 21, 2013 and the reports indicated that more than thousand deaths have occurred due to this. In the recent history, the noticeable usage of chemical weapons was done during 1988-91 against the Kurdish population by Iraq. During 1995, the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway killing 13 people by a religious cult called Aum Shinrikyo had also raised the concerns emanating from the stockpiles of chemical weapons.


The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) forms an important part of global disarmament architecture. It is an important part of the international law supporting disarmament and non-proliferation concerning chemical weapons. The CWC came into force on 29 April 1997. Within a span of less than a decade, the CWC had won support from nearly all UN member states. Today, with Syria accepting to join the convention presently only four states in the world are found outside the CWC regime. The states that have neither signed nor acceded to the CWC are Angola, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan. Israel and Myanmar are two other states which are signatory to this convention but have not yet ratified it.


CWC is the only international WMD related agreement that is completely verifiable. There is no treaty or convention so far which can commit to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Broadly, all toxic chemicals and their precursors developed, produced, acquired, stockpiled, or retained for military purposes could be termed as chemical weapons and any such use of chemicals amounts to the violation of this convention. Also, munitions and devices specifically designed to cause death or harm through the toxic properties of toxic chemicals are banned (excludes riot control agents) under this convention.


Since its entry into force in 1997, six countries namely the United States, Russia, India, Albania, Libya and a “state party”, possibly South Korea have confirmed the availability of chemical weapons: Russia topping the list with 40,000 tonnes and the United States with 27,000 tonnes; the total declaration amounting to 70,000 tonnes. Under the watchful eyes of OCPW these states have undertaken the process of destruction of their declared stockpiles. Amongst this six countries four states have fully destroyed their weapons and fulfilled their obligations towards CWC. Unilaterally, India had declared the presence of chemical weapons on its soil in 1997. India has totally destroyed its declared chemical weapons stockpile of 1,044 tonnes by March 26, 2009. Presently, approximately 25% of the declared global stockpiles are yet to be destroyed.


Interestingly, the states which are trying to control the Syrian conflict and have made a big fuss about their Chemical weapons the only two states which have not fully destroyed their own chemical weapons stockpiles. It is the US and Russia who are found evading their CWC obligations. Both the countries have missed the deadline for destroying their chemical weapons stockpile. It was officially agreed that they would destroy their stockpiles by 2012. But, now they are putting rationale of technical and financial difficulties for their failure to do so and are expected to take many more years (may be by 2020/23) to finish their stockpile destruction. Amusingly, the US has no financial constraints for planning a military attack on Syria but, is not able to fulfill their CWC treaty obligations due to financial difficulties! Unfortunately, in 2012 the rest of the world meekly accepted the brazen disregard which both the US and Russia had shown to the treaty.


Experts are of the opinion that in reality, there are very few technical feasibilities available for securing and destroying Syria's chemical weapons fully. The US and Russia both have been struggling with many technological hurdles all these years to destroy their own stockpiles. But, now without even knowing about type and quantity of chemical arsenal on Syrian soil they are convinced that Syrian (a state embroiled in bloody conflict) stockpiles could me managed. On the other hand there is not much of information available with regard to the actual destruction of Chemical Weapons achieved in Libya and Iraq (at least in open domain) after the end of war. Neither the US and nor the Russia has shown any great concern about this issue so far. In case of Syria the Russian position has been that, ‘the weapons have been used not by the Assad’s government but by the rebel forces’. However, Russia has not been found making any efforts to identify the source of these weapons.


During last three years of the continuous of this conflict thousands of deaths have taken place in Syria however, for the US, the problem becomes extremely grave only when the chemical weapons got used to cause few of these deaths. All this indicates that the chemical weapons are political weapons in the power-play of major powers. It was a smart move by the Russian President Putin, to use the chemical weapons diplomacy to avoid the eminent US attack on Syria and a desperate US move to grab this option as a face-saver. As far as Syrian conflict is concerned the deaths would continue to take place may be minus the usage of gas. However, both for Russia and the US, the chemical weapons were just a pawn in their power-play and they are not found much concerned about the deaths happening by other means (using conventional weapons). It is important to note that the world would be free of chemical weapons not only when the Syria disarms but only when both the US and Russia disarms and there is just no guarantee about that. The United States and Russia possess more than ten lethal doses of biochemical toxin for every human on earth.


 Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.