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Syria: a Defining Moment For Chemical Weapons? 454

Lasrick writes "Oliver Meier describes the long-term significance (even beyond the incredible human suffering) of Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons on August 21, and outlines six major steps for response. Quoting: 'The attack in August is a historic event with wider implications. Its impact on the role of chemical weapons in international security in general will depend primarily on the responses. Looking beyond the current crisis, failure to respond to the attacks could undermine the taboo against chemical weapons. ... First, a unified response by the international community is essential. The strength of international norms depends primarily on great-power support. So far, such a unified response is sorely lacking. Judgments about how to react to the use of chemical weapons appear to be tainted by preferences about the shape of a post-war Syria. This has already damaged the international chemical weapons legal regime.'"
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Syria: a Defining Moment For Chemical Weapons?

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  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Saturday August 31, 2013 @09:35AM (#44723611)

    weapons that deliver a chemical reaction causing eye, skin and lung damage are bad.

    weapons that deliver a chemical reaction causing bits of metal flying through your eye, skin and lung are good.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mhajicek ( 1582795 )
      Not that the US follows the Geneva Convention either. Depleted Uranium and white phosphorous are somehow excusable violations.
      • by LMariachi ( 86077 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @10:05AM (#44723793) Journal

        I thought depleted uranium was used for its mass, not specifically for its long-term toxic effects. Lead is toxic also, after all. And white phosphorus just burns you up faster than conventional incendiaries, what’s the problem there? It’s preferable for people to burn more slowly?

        • by lxs ( 131946 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @10:10AM (#44723819)

          I'm sure that the victims are comforted by the fact that their exposure to deadly chemicals was purely incidental..

        • I thought depleted uranium was used for its mass, not specifically for its long-term toxic effects. Lead is toxic also, after all. And white phosphorus just burns you up faster than conventional incendiaries, what’s the problem there? It’s preferable for people to burn more slowly?

          What's your point, Ludwig?

        • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @12:21PM (#44724623) Homepage Journal

          The problem with white phosphorus is that it doesn't kill people, it maims them. The overall gist of the rules of war is that it's OK to kill people but not to leave them suffering. It's tantamount to torture or terrorism, using fear and pain rather than force to achieve your goals. Ostensibly killing soldiers is part of a just war (making them stop doing whatever it is that justifies your war), while simply scaring people isn't, even though it leaves them alive.

          It took me a long time to write that in as neutral a fashion as I could. I'm sure that a great many people would find it a silly distinction. But it really is a key underlying principle for why we have rules of war at all. I personally find the concept kind of odd.

          • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Saturday August 31, 2013 @01:10PM (#44724965)

            I personally find the concept kind of odd.

            I'm going to guess that you've never been in the military.

            Think about a conscript. His country is at war because of his politicians. His personal beliefs don't matter. He either fights or he, at best, is in jail. Remember the kids who went to Canada instead of being drafted to fight in Vietnam?

            So the least that the professional soldiers and responsible politicians can do is to make basic rules so that that kid can get back to his pre-war life with as much of his body still intact as possible.

            Chemical weapons are a problem because they usually do not kill. It takes a LOT of chemicals and the right environment to kill. But they do tear up lungs and eyes and nervous systems. So the casualties may be able to move themselves but they cannot pick up their old lives again.

            Now imagine the impact that has on a country AFTER the war. Thousands and thousands of disabled citizens that have trouble working.

      • by Creepy ( 93888 )

        Unless you're eating the depleted uranium, you probably aren't going to be affected by it. Skin is pretty good at stopping alpha and relatively good at stopping beta radiation (like that stuff you get from the sun). Stomach linings and lungs are not.

        White Phosphorus is actually not specifically banned in any treaty except for use against civilian targets. It is used extensively in signaling (i.e. flares), tracer rounds, and to produce large amounts of smoke.

        • Unless you're eating the depleted uranium, you probably aren't going to be affected by it.

          Or breathing it.

          "In military conflicts involving DU munitions, the major concern is inhalation of DU particles in aerosols arising from the impacts of DU-enhanced projectiles with their targets. When depleted uranium munitions penetrate armor or burn, they create depleted uranium oxides in the form of dust that can be inhaled or contaminate wounds. The Institute of Nuclear Technology-Radiation Protection of Attiki,

      • Are you being deliberately obtuse or are you just that ignorant? Depleted Uranium is by no stretch of the imagination a chemical weapon and the use of white phosphorus against a human target is a war crime in its own right.

        The problem with chemical weapons (Lets call them "War Gasses" to avoid confusion,) is that they are not really effective against a military target. (They can degrade a military unit's effectiveness, but both sides get degraded.) They are, however, wonderfully effective against civili

      • by inhuman_4 ( 1294516 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @11:26AM (#44724255)

        White phosphorous is not illegal, and it is not a chemical weapon.

        White phosphorous (WP) is a chemical that burns very hot, very bright, and produces a lot of smoke. This gives WP a number of military uses including incendiary, illumination, and creating smoke screens.

        There is nothing illegal about using WP for illumination or smoke screens. In fact it is quite common. In fact it is not even illegal to use it as an incendiary. What is illegal is to use any incendiary on a civilian centre.

        It is illegal to use incendiary (fire causing) weapons in urban areas, so no napalm, WP, petroleum jelly, or equivalents. This is because incendiary weapons start fires which kill indiscriminately and can easily create fires too large for firefighting efforts to control. The firebombing of Tokyo (100,000 dead) and Hamburg (42,000 dead) are examples of using incendiary weapons in an urban area on a large scale.

        The problem is that the media dumbs everything down to WP == incendiary == war crime. Which is like claiming laser guided bombs = lasers = blinding = war crime. Next time you see someone in the media talking about WP war crimes take a look at the evidence. If the WP didn't start a fire it wasn't being used an an incendiary.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      People that lead others simply because they are born into a family that has control.
      People that kill others just because they don't believe the same crazy shit.
      People that think they are better than others because of money or political power.
      With so much better things to do why is the world is still fucken nuts !

    • It's because chemical weapons are only effective against civilian populations. Any well trained military unit will be trained and equipped to deal with them. But it's a horrific way for dictators like assad and hussein to punish unruly subjects.

    • It is the scale.
      Chemical weapons can be taken by the wind and dispersed miles and miles away in any random direction. Killing and maiming everything in their path. And can get into water supplies, and poison stuff for generations.
      tactical missiles and grenades will kill indiscriminately for a few meter radius, and as soon as they explode they are not not any more dangerous or bad for the environment than a few plastic cups strewn around.

    • It is indeed a very complex issue to which there is no easy one line answers. But there is a sort of logic behind why some weapon systems are banned, and others not, or how even legal weapons can be used in an illegal way.

      It is not about some weapons being good or bad, or even the amount of suffering they cause at the individuals affected by them. It is all about keeping military actions under control causing the least amount of suffering among soldiers and civilians in relation to the objectives of the mil

    • by Jessified ( 1150003 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @11:07AM (#44724125)

      Not to mention, we don't seem to have any problem shedding the taboos against torture and killing first responders (Guantanamo and US drone double tap strikes).

      Both are war crimes and both are carried out knowingly and intentionally. At this point it would make more sense for Russia to be the human rights watch dog of the world.

    • weapons that kill your own citizens are bad

      weapons that you can make a snarky comment on the internet are good.
    • Since this is happening in the city, instead of some huge open field, if Assad uses chemical weapons, he'll greatly increase the number of casualties of civilians who are loyal to him.

      When an explosive detonates, those civilians who aren't supporting the rebels have some protection from the shrapnel because they're hiding indoors.

      When a chemical is released, it can spread for blocks, seeping into the buildings through existing cracks or new holes made by shrapnel made by conventional ordnance and incr
    • Indeed, what was it that made those 1400 deaths so much worse than the 100 000 previous ones?

    • weapons that deliver a chemical reaction causing bits of metal flying through your eye, skin and lung are good.

      It's only in American you'll hear someone say that weapons are good.

      Also conventional weapons are not allowed to kill indiscriminately either... They are not allowed to be dangerous generations later, i.e. mines forbidden.
      You'll also find that most responsible countries are taking steps towards forbidding cluster munition:

      The phrase "most responsible countries" obviously excludes the U.S.

      The point is, it's not always easy to see when a weapon is i

    • Any use of war weapons is a terrible thing; usually the people that demand the weapons' use or make light of it are those who have never been on a battlefield.

      That having been said: There are different types and degrees of injury potentially caused by weapons of war (or any weapon); these injuries may be classified by type and degree of acute trauma as well as by long-term, chronic sequelae. Whereas in my opinion the horror of a -fatal- injury from weapons of war cannot really be differentiated or mitigate

  • How about no. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 31, 2013 @09:40AM (#44723637)

    Lets just stay out of this fight. For once. Just once. let the rest of the world deal with it.

    We have nothing to gain. And trillions to lose. again. and too many dead soldiers already.
    No matter how it turns out this country will continue to hate our guts. Rightfully so maybe.

    Lets just stay out of it. Time to watch a war on CNN we don't have a stake in at all.

    Sometimes the only winning move is not to play.

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      um, if you stay out of the fight then you lose to Russia. Do you really think that's going to happen?
    • Don't have boots on the ground. Don't have long term commitment. Go in hard and fast with airstrikes, missiles and other things aimed squarely at Assad's military forces. Tanks. Aircraft. Military bases. Military communications. Command centers. Artillery pieces and missile batteries. Anything that is a military target and can be taken out without civilian casualties. (with the precision strike capability the US has these days from drones etc, taking out even something as small as a tank without civilian ca

  • War should Suck (Score:5, Interesting)

    by craigminah ( 1885846 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @09:43AM (#44723663)
    If we make war clean and tidy then where is the motivation to avoid it? The Star Trek episode, "A Taste of Armegeddon" ( portrays two planets who've been at war for centuries. It was really "modern" where planets would launch simulated attacks which caused no collateral damage and computers would calculate the death toll. "Victims" were then calculated and selected via lottery. They'd report to the disintegrators for a painless death. It was so "humane" that the planets never had any motivation to end the war.

    My point is that we should allow anything in war with the knowledge that the more horrific the weapon the more prompt and determined the response to it by the rest of the world.
    • The point is not to eliminate violence, only to organize it to serve the interest of the empire. Violence is a powerful too that can be used to justify all sorts of horrors in order to stop it. The US and the CIA lit the fuse, now they're going there to put out the fire.
    • Re:War should Suck (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kilo Kilo ( 2837521 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @10:06AM (#44723803)
      The first machine guns were thought to be so awful that they would act as peace-preservers." [] That didn't work out so well. It might seem ironic trying to impose rules in warfare, but anything that can lessen the damages should be encouraged.
    • Re:War should Suck (Score:4, Insightful)

      by killkillkill ( 884238 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @10:29AM (#44723923)
      I know hippies hate the mutually assured destruction idea... but it works. When in history have two empires struggling for more global power stood nose to nose with such little violence as with the USA and USSR? If you have more to lose than gain, even if you 'win', your perspective changes and you take a step back, or at least won't step into the fight. There is a line where we would be willing to step into a bar fight. There's a line much farther away (probably along the lines of someone attacking you first) that would need to be crossed to get us in a fight with someone with a knife in hand, even if we have a knife of our own. Most people/nations aren't completely irrational and operate off of general survival instincts.
      • Re:War should Suck (Score:4, Informative)

        by Jmc23 ( 2353706 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @10:54AM (#44724065) Journal
        um, you do know the USA and USSR just moved the violence and destruction to other countries right? Perhaps the world would have been better off for the last 70 years if they just took it out on each other and not played their stupidity out on the world stage.
        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          um, you do know the USA and USSR just moved the violence and destruction to other countries right?

          Yes. But it still qualifies as "such little violence". The original poster isn't ignorant of the big wars of this period.

        • General Patton actually made a good case for continued war near what would be the end of WWII. He wanted to keep moving the West's forces east and take Stalin down. He knew that if they stopped where they did (where the politicians wanted) we would get a more dangerous set of conditions. We had the nukes and the armies and production capability and the technology to do it. But they fired (and some say assassinated) him to keep him from pushing that position. If we had done that, we would not have had a col
      • Mutually Assured Destruction worked... once. Working one time out of the only time it's been deliberately tried isn't exactly a proven track record.

    • Re:War should Suck (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @10:56AM (#44724071)
      "It is good that war should be so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it." -Robert E Lee
    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      If we make war clean and tidy then where is the motivation to avoid it?

      Let's take this the other way. We could make wars deliberately ugly and high cost. But why would we think that would provide enough incentive to keep people from fighting them?

      My view is that the only genuine way to prevent most war (between identifiable foes, that is) is to have a military force that will clobber anyone who starts such a fight. Change the strategic outcome of starting a war to always lose, and you end the incentive to engage in war.

  • War Precedent (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SpaceMonkies ( 2868125 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @09:49AM (#44723687)
    "On March 17, 2003, Lord Goldsmith, Attorney General of the UK, set out his government's legal justification for an invasion of Iraq. He said that Security Council resolution 678 authorised force against Iraq, which was suspended but not terminated by resolution 687, which imposed continuing obligations on Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. A material breach of resolution 687 would revive the authority to use force under resolution 678. In resolution 1441 the Security Council determined that Iraq was in material breach of resolution 687 because it had not fully carried out its obligations to disarm. Although resolution 1441 had given Iraq a final chance to comply, UK Attorney General Goldsmith wrote "it is plain that Iraq has failed so to comply"."
    -- []

    I for one do not trust our governments to tell me the truth, or engage in wars unless necessary anymore.

    Check out the new Slashdot iPad app []
  • bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 31, 2013 @09:50AM (#44723697)

    There has never been a treaty, or International Law, that says there must be a military response by otherwise uninvolved nations whenever there is a chemical weapons attack. This should be handled just like any other war crime. Someday we will get you, and we will put you on trial. We're not going to launch a weak-ass cruise missile campaign that will last for a measly two days and accomplish nothing but unnecessary civilian casualties.

    People aren't dumb. What's going on in Syria sucks. Our involvement will not make things better.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      Someday we will get you, and we will put you on trial.

      Unless, you know, that doesn't happen. Such threats matter only if you have the capability to carry them out.

  • by dnaumov ( 453672 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @09:52AM (#44723709)

    ... against whom? the rebels or the saudis?

    Noone with half a brain believes Assad is behind the chemical attack because

    1) He has nothing to gain by doing so
    2) He has everything to lose by doing so
    3) He is not a retard

    Not to mention that the past 6 months have shown that Assad isn't exactly cornered, on the contrary, he has been pushing further and further back against the rebels.

    • Then why has he blocked inspectors?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Then why has he blocked inspectors?

        Because he sees his country as sovereign.

        Because the UN inspectors may lie, or have their report influenced by countries that want him out for other reasons.

        Because the UN inspectors are only there to determine if weapons were used. If weapons were used by the rebels, the inspectors will report that. If they guess that he is responsible, he gets blamed.

        If you were in his place, would you allow inspections?

      • Do you let police wander your house whenever they feel like it?
      • by vovick ( 1397387 )

        Then why has he blocked inspectors?

        Because not using chemical weapons does not necessarily mean he's not a power-craving asshole (like most other politicians, admittedly) who is paranoid about the Western conquistadors of modern times.

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Or maybe he seriously doubts that there would be any retaliation. Seriously, the USA looks like a bully that's finally been called on their bluffing. That and he's probably smart enough to know that the USA has no ulterior motive to go in and they really don't do anything that they think won't help them in the long run.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 31, 2013 @09:52AM (#44723711)

    We lied about our reasons for war every time, but trust is, this time we have proof. Think of the children.

  • by palemantle ( 1007299 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @09:53AM (#44723721)
    Not that I completely disagree with the sentiment expressed in the article but all the wide-eyed outrage coming from the government of the US of A is a tad laughable seeing how it's the only country in the history of humankind that's pounded other countries with both nuclear (see Hiroshima, Nagasaki) and chemical (see Agent Orange, Vietnam) weapons.
    • Not that I completely disagree with the sentiment expressed in the article but all the wide-eyed outrage coming from the government of the US of A is a tad laughable seeing how it's the only country in the history of humankind that's pounded other countries with both nuclear (see Hiroshima, Nagasaki) and chemical (see Agent Orange, Vietnam) weapons.

      It's the only country to use nukes. But it certainly isn't the only to use gas. France, Germany and the UK all used it during the first world war. While Agent Orange was a gas, it was not believed to be toxic to humans At the time it was used in Vietnam. It was a defoliant used so the North Vietnamese troops couldn't hide under the forest canopy. Unfortunately Monsanto tainted it in production.

      • I take your point about other countries using chemical weapons. But: 1 - I meant that the US of A was the only nation to use both nuclear and chemical weapons 2 - Agent Orange wasn't just a defoliant. This quote is from the Agent Orange wikipedia article: "Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of its use"
  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @09:57AM (#44723743)
    There is UN, why is it up to US to police (and pay for) intervention? How does Syrians using chemical weapons against other Syrians is a US national security concern?
    • There was an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro ("Attack without UN approval illegal"). I read a re-post of it in Stars & Stripes (Digital Edition, Main Edition, August 30, page 12). I cannot find a direct link to the Post and S&S uses flash, so you will have to dig it out yourself. It is worth reading.

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Probably because the US took on the police role to bully other countries, now they're just being called on their bully bluffs.
  • 'Unified response' (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mvdwege ( 243851 ) <> on Saturday August 31, 2013 @10:03AM (#44723781) Homepage Journal

    A unified response is necessary, according to the analyst. Funny how that sounds like "too bad the House of Commons refused to be an American lapdog for a change".

  • Iraq: A defining moment for weapons of mass destruction

    How many times people will buy remakes of The empire strikes back?

    And, btw, is good to have backup of what newspapers said before media control, like when was disclosed that U.S. backed plan to launch chemical weapon attack on Syria and blame it on Assad's regime [].

    This is not about caring about Syrian people, at least, not the big majority of them, just about the friendly ones that will be put in control. Remember how much US cared about iraquis? Seem

  • This is not a defining moment any more than Iraq vs Iran in the 80s, than the USSR in Afghanistan, than the US in Vietnam, etc.

    War is hell. Someday if your country is in a brutal fight to the death, you may also insist that your country use them. Honestly, if you want to stop Assad, then stop Assad, but don't try to pretend it's some moral imperative based on chemical weapons.
  • by ttucker ( 2884057 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @12:33PM (#44724719)
    Russia, for example, does not dispute that chemical weapons were used, or that it was bad. They do dispute that there is any credible evidence linking the chemical weapons to the Syrian government. The attacks might also have been terrorist in nature, or even worse been perpetrated in a false flag manner to intentionally start a war. What is truly newsworthy about these events is how fast the US wants to move on Syria.
  • what the fuck? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by magical liopleurodon ( 1213826 ) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @01:26PM (#44725063)

    what the fuck is this bullshit?

    We don't even know that Assad did it. Given that we know that the rebels have sarin (, this could be a false flag. And yet the post reads like it's a foregone conclusion that Assad did it.

Disks travel in packs.