Here's How the U.S. Can Help Rid the World of Chemical Weapons

If the Obama Administration really cared, there are a few easy steps to making not just Syria, but the whole world, a safer place


If President Obama is serious about ridding the world, and not just Syria, of chemical weapons, he and America's closest allies in the Middle East should lead the way.

Although the United States has ratified the 20-year-old Chemical Weapons Convention, it has not destroyed its entire arsenal, as required under the CWC. In reference to the United States, the 2011 report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons states, "Since the beginning of destruction activities, the OPCW has verified the destruction of … 89.71% of the declared stockpile." That's a high percentage, but it is not 100 percent, and the United States had one of the larger stockpiles in the world. The U.S. government can set a better example than that. (As if it needed any chemical weapons. Besides its nuclear arsenal, the U.S. military has the world's most destructive arsenal of "conventional" weapons—so powerful that it erases the line between such weapons and most "weapons of mass destruction.")

Besides destroying its own arsenal, the United States should go even further in showing good faith by publicly telling its closest Middle East allies, Egypt and Israel, to ratify the CWC and destroy their chemical arsenals. The governments of these countries get billions of dollars in military aid each year from American taxpayers and routinely use military force against innocent people. It is outrageous for the U.S. government to make high and mighty pronouncements about chemical weapons with regard to Syria while winking its eye at Israel (which also has biological and nuclear weapons) and Egypt.

The Obama administration's selective demands about chemical weapons ought to be judged in light of this overlooked bit of history: According to Stephen Zunes, a Middle East scholar at the University of San Francisco, "Syria has joined virtually all other Arab states in calling for … a 'weapons of mass destruction-free zone' for the entire Middle East. In December 2003, Syria introduced a UN Security Council resolution reiterating this clause from 12 years earlier, but the resolution was tabled as a result of a threatened U.S. veto." (Emphasis added.)

Why would the United States have vetoed the resolution? Because ally Israel refuses to acknowledge, much less give up, its WMD arsenal. So much for a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free Middle East.

Had that resolution been adopted, Syria would not have chemical weapons today.

The CWC has no built-in enforcement provision, but the International Criminal Court in The Hague could be used to prosecute war criminals. However, as Matt Welch points out, "mostly because of lobbying efforts from the United States[,] the ICC cannot go after dictators that do not recognize the court's legitimacy. Prosecutions of rogue actors must be referred to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council.… The only time residents of non-signatory countries like Syria — or the United States — can be hauled in is at the request of the UN Security Council.… Assad might have been charged already had it not been for American diplomatic resistance to a more aggressive court."

Moreover, Gavin de Becker writes that the United States—the exceptional and indispensable nation—has managed to exempt itself from some international rules concerning warfare: "As happens with many contracts, countries sign the conventions only after adding their reservations and objections, composed by lawyers who write in cozy offices. One quickly sees that the treaties are not quite so lofty as many imagine."

Here's something else the U.S. government could do: ratify the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans cluster bombs, those nasty weapons that can spread hundreds of unexploded bomblets that are capable of indiscriminately killing innocent children and adults years after the initial bombing. Israel and Egypt, as well as Syria, are also not parties to this convention. The U.S. military has used cluster bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other places. Moreover, the United States manufactures cluster bombs and recently sold 1,300 of them (for $640 million) to Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by an authoritarian monarchy with a miserable human-rights record. The U.S. government has also sold the weapons to Israel, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

American presidents love to brag about their world leadership. Here are concrete ways to lead that would actually bring constructive results.

NEXT: Syrian Opposition Chooses New Leader

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  1. These international treaties banning this kind of weapon and that kind of weapon mean jack and shit, and Jack left town a while ago.

    A “law” without an enforcement mechanism or specific punishments for violating said law isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

    1. While I agree with your statement, consider the effectiveness of the domestic drug prohibition laws here and abroad.

      1. Those laws have enforcement mechanisms.

        What Mike means is that if the Chinese or Russians want to possess a weapon “banned” by international treaty – or if we do – nobody can do a damn thing about it.

        The H bomb trumps everything. If you possess an H bomb, do as thou wilt is the whole of the law.

        That means that acting as if international law meaningfully exists will always be kind of a joke.

        1. I understood that, was only pointing out that adding an enforcement mechanism increases the effectiveness of such laws by only a small amount.

          Any country determined to possess chemical weapons will probably do so secretly in spite of those measures.

        2. A more effective enforcement would be to kick countries out.

          If they want to be cool and be part of the popular club, they must stick by the rules. If not, they are kicked out and shamed as liars etc.

          Not sure that would mean anything to them, but at least they wouldn’t be around to make the rest look false as well.

          The EU would have done well to follow this model and kick Greece out to show that they stood for something. But since they don’t…

    2. I know “Jack”, and I know “Shit”, but I do NOT know “Jack Shit”, so who in the hell are YOU talking about? Please advise?

  2. If you want to cut down on chemical weapons, eat fewer beans, lol

  3. We cannot allow a chemical weapon gap.

  4. So murderous dictators use chemical weapons on their own people because of the US and the Juice? Is that the point here?

  5. No, but we can’t in good faith demand that everyone destroy their chemical weapons while we keep ours. Same thing goes for nukes. If one country has them, every other country will want them as a retaliatory threat.

    1. Hey with enough nukes you can demand anything you want.

  6. Sorry, Sheldon, but it doesn’t matter how hard you push, that genie simply isn’t going back into the bottle.

  7. Chemical weapons are here to stay and it would be stupid for the United States to get rid of its chemical weapons.

    If Washington D.C. were ever half occupied by an invader and chemical weapons was the only way to flush them out, we would use them.

    And if we get rid of chemical weapons, why not just get rid of guns? Why not just ban war? Good luck enforcing that.

    1. We did ban war. Shortly afterward, WWII started. In part BECAUSE we banned war – made it easier for Hitler to build up and invade meaningless little countries without retaliation.

    2. It would be smart for the US to get rid of chemical weapons. They’re not very effective. Dispersion and control are a problem. Having your troops walk around inside of bulky and hot suits degrades their ability to fight. They just plain suck.

      But cluster munitions? No thanks. Not giving those up. If I’ve got a division of infantry advancing on a battalion or company of Americans you bet I like all those little bang pops to take them out. Same applies to hyperbaric bombs.

      Oh, and the deadliest weapon ever invented? That’s right, the AK-47. Try banning that.

      1. I agree. Chemical weapons just aren’t that great. Biological weapons are too likely to turn around and bite you in the ass. So, I could support the US removing those from its arsenal.

        It’s not like we can’t bomb the life out of anybody who uses them against us.

        But the idea of the US giving up cluster bombs is full on retard. Unexploded ordinance from cluster bombs is just like any other kind of bomb, so citing it as a particular problem is just ignorance or duplicitousness.

        The U.S. military has used cluster bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other places. .. The U.S. government has also sold the weapons to Israel, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

        Ergo, their useful.

        Moreover, the United States manufactures cluster bombs and recently sold 1,300 of them (for $640 million) to Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by an authoritarian monarchy with a miserable human-rights record.

        Irrelevant to the discussion. Really, that’s just a blatant appeal to emotion.

        1. Unexploded ordinance from cluster bombs is just like any other kind of bomb

          Um ok… except there are dozens of them instead of one.. increasing the likelihood of killing innocents years later by dozens of times.

  8. Here’s a little recent something concerning the (NB)C weapons in the U.S.:

  9. “Had that resolution been adopted, Syria would not have chemical weapons today.”

    Yah sure and Iran would have revealed those centrifuge thingys were just mock ups and threats to wipe Israel off the face of the earth were both attempts at humor misunderstood due to cross-cultural boundaries. Hahahahahuummmm…what an embarrassing degree of rose colored thinking.

  10. the United States should go even further in showing good faith

    Why is a libertarian assuming that a government does anything in good faith?

    And how pray tell is the ICC and CWC supposed to enforce its decisions?

    And the Kellogg-Briand did ban aggressive war back in 1928. That worked out well…

    1. There’s more than one brand of libertarianism. It isn’t a binary equation of no government or full on communism.

  11. The issue that the world faces in this context is not whether a country possesses an arsenal of WMD’s but whether a country has the intention, resolve, capability and an intrinsic desire to use them on any pretext. In this light, the possibility of Syria, Iran, North Korea etc. using such ordinances is very high indeed. History bears witness to the fact that other countries who have such stockpiles have hardly resorted to their deployment since WWII and the Vietnam war. Possession of WMD’s including atomic stockpiles is primarily and exclusively to act as a deterrent but not essentially for its use per se. If the US disposes its stockpiles at this stage, it will only make the resolve of avengers who have vowed to destroy the US stronger. Leading the way does not mean bending down to touch one’s knees at least in today’s ruthless and terrorist infested world where religion is used willy-nilly to kill and maim.

  12. Yes! YES!!! We need to get more and More and MORE hysterical! My God! CHEMICAL WEAPONS! Chemical weapons KILL PEOPLE!!!

    Jesus Christ…

    Guns kill people too. Killing people is the problem, not the means. I don’t think anyone ever had the dying words after being shot “at least I wasn’t gassed…”.

    No, chemaical weapons aren’t ‘worse’ than regular weapons. Dead is dead, maimed is maimed, horrible pain is horrible pain. Guns are not ‘nicer’ than gas. Guns are not nice at all.

    North Korea has nuclear weapons today for all the effort the entire world put into stopping them yesterday. After that all is pointless hand-wringing.

    1. When it comes to capital punishment, in the recent past gas was considered humane while firing squads have been banned for nearly a century.

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