Monday, April 22, 2019

Chemical Weapons in Syria and the US response

Chemical Weapons in Syria and the US response


The alleged use of Nerve agent and other chemical weapons in Syria has evoked a response from US which has launched missiles at certain locations in Syria.

What are chemical weapons?

  1. It is a toxic chemical in a delivery system such as bomb or artillery.
  2. The chemical weapons convention defines each component of a chemical weapon as a chemical weapon— whether assembled or not, stored together or separately. Anything specifically designed or intended for use in direct connection with the release of a chemical agent to cause death or harm is itself a chemical weapon.
  3. These include :
  1. Choking agents :  Fluid builds up in lungs, choking victim. Examples include chlorine, phosgene, diphosgene and chloropicrin
  2. Blister agents: Burns skin, mucous membranes and eyes; causes large blisters on exposed skin; blisters windpipe and lungs; large casualties, low percentage of deaths. Examples: sulphur mustard, nitrogen mustard , phosgene oxime, Lewisite
  3. Blood agents: Cyanide destroys ability of blood tissues to utilise oxygen, causing them to ‘starve’ and strangling the heart. Examples include hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride, Arsine, VX
  4. Riot control agents: Cause tears, coughing and irritation to eyes, nose, mouth and skin; constrict airway and shut eyes; teargas and pepper spray are examples of such agents

What is nerve gas?

  1. It is a compound that acts by incapacitating the mechanism within the body responsible for the conduction of nerve impulses
  2. Action of acetylcholineesterase is blocked (a compound that catalyses the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine), When acetylcholinesterase  is prevented from performing its normal function of breaking down acetylcholine, muscles go into a state of uncontrolled contraction — a sign of paralysis or a seizure-like state.
  3. Nerve agents can also be absorbed through the skin.
  4. When countries started to develop newer weapons to bypass CWC  restrictions, they preferred nerve agents. That is how Novichok evolved: because restrictions are based on chemical formulae, newer molecules can bypass restrictions. Novichok is said to be 5-8 times more lethal than VX nerve agent and its effects are rapid, usually within 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

Chemical weapons convention

  1. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is an arms control treaty that outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and their precursors
  2. It is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an intergovernmental organization based in The Hague, The Netherlands.
  3. The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the large-scale use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of chemical weapons. Very limited production for research, medical, pharmaceutical or protective purposes is still permitted
  4. 192 states have become parties to the CWC and accept its obligations. Israel has signed but not ratified the agreement, while three other UN member states (Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan) have neither signed nor acceded to the treaty.
  5. In September 2013 Syria acceded to the convention as part of an agreement for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons

The Issue and USA response

The USA in alliance with UK and France launched missiles against Syria at selected locations in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian government against its own citizens in rebel areas.
U.S. President Donald Trump has made good on his threat to use force if chemical weapons are used in the civil war-stricken country


  1. Trampling of international law and convention.
  2. This attack was not authorized by the UN Security Council.
  3. There has been no credible, independent investigation and confirmation about the use of CWs by the Syrian regime against its own people.
  4. Syria marks one eruption of an exceedingly uncertain phase in global geopolitics. This includes the US-Russia tension on the one hand and the simmering US-China disputes on the other

Way forward

The US and other European players and Russia along with the regional players and stakeholders should join hands to negotiate the solution to long standing Syrian problem.


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