Last August, President Barack Obama, wary of the civil unrest in Syria, issued a firm warning to President Bashar al-Assad, saying that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and result in “enormous consequences.” Now the president’s seriousness toward the situation is being called into question as the Syrian military forces are said to have been engaging in chemical warfare by using a chemical called sarin, a move that calls for the U.S. to contemplate its role in this continually shifting chess game.
The conflict in Syria has already seen tens of thousands of deaths by conventional weapons, so the use of chemicals is no matter to be taken lightly. Chemical weapons have had devastating effects before. Their first usage in World War I led to those involved being scarred physically and psychologically by the exposure to the harmful gases. Following the combat, the Geneva Protocol was enacted in 1925 and banned the use of chemical weaponry—a decision that was for the better.
Chemical arms arose as a worry once again when the United States was in the midst of the Cold War. Luckily, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Chemical Weapons Convention was signed in 1993 and declared restrictions on the production and stockpiling of such armaments. Witnessing chemical artillery being utilized today makes the subject much more sensitive. However, six countries remain non-signatories of the treaty, with Syria being one of those states.
Those opposed to United States intervention in any way should know that the decision to intercede is made not only because the president has an obligation to make good on his threats. The chemical sarin is also considered a weapon of mass destruction and was banned during the aforementioned weapons convention of 1993 due to its horrific effects. For those unfamiliar, sarin is a colorless and odorless liquid that can be deployed into missiles and mortars, causing severe muscle spasms, vision loss and asphyxia. In extreme cases, it can kill within a minute of contact.
The use of sarin is simply cruel, and in most cases does not even harm intended targets—Greg Teilman, who worked in the state department, said that military personnel can shield themselves from chemical weapons, at the expense of civilians. A recent instance in which the use of sarin has occurred was under the rule of Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War. The chemical was meant to inflict suffering on Iranian forces, but in 1988 devastated the Kurdish people of Halabja, Iraq, where they suffered 5,000 deaths.
Remaining neutral will affect innocent lives. The latest chemical weapon attacks have killed at least 25 people in a village near Aleppo. A photographer in the area, reporting for the Reuters news agency, said that “mostly women and children” were affected by the attacks. Innocent lives need to be protected, especially from a chemical that is dangerous enough to be categorized as a weapon of mass destruction. Using a chemical that can produce a feeling of agonizing suffocation is inhumane and makes the situation in Syria that much more vital.
Washington has stated that its has seen “no evidence” that the rebels are to blame, and Louay al-Meqdad, the political manager of the rebel command, reportedly told the Reuters news agency that the Syrian regime “hit the town with a long-range missile equipped with a chemical warhead.” The Obama administration, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have also announced that U.S. intelligence concluded that the forces of the Syrian government used chemical weapons in two clashes with the rebels.
The President and his advisors need to act quickly and carefully on the matter. For now, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and President Obama are demanding further proof about the use of sarin since the Syrian regime and the rebels are pointing fingers at one another.
Syria has committed a war crime with its use of the deadly agent sarin, so restrictions need to be made accordingly. An immediate course of action should be to establish safe zones in Syria that can protect the people from the violence incurred because of the rebel-government confrontations. A few U.S. troops could patrol the borders in the safe zones. A no-fly zone is also a viable option that would prevent possible airborne chemical bombardments and stress Obama’s heavy-handed threat.
Hagel announced that Washington would be “rethinking changing its policy of opposing providing weapons to the rebels,” as reported by CNN. Although pressure needs to be put on the Syrian government, this should be a Plan B since arming the rebels could provoke al-Assad and the Syrian regime further. U.S. troops should instead be strategically placed around the borders of Syria since it would not cause as much of a stern response as direct intervention would.
CNN reported that a few hundred troops have been deployed “to Jordan, just south of Syria, with the purpose of aiding refugee care,” and there has been no sign of conflict. The additional military impact would also prepare the nation for the possibility of necessary interpolation, and increase assistance to many more refugees.
If Syria continues with the use of sarin, or any other chemical weapons, the international taboo on chemical arsenals could be rescinded, meaning that the weaponry would become more common in warfare—a bleak future consequence. This is why it is important for the U.S. to try and rid Syria of its chemical stockpiles by utilizing the influence its has and invoking help from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) if military intervention becomes an unavoidable option.
Britain, France and Israel are valuable allies that would be able to gain the attention of President al-Assad, emphasizing the seriousness of the matter. The British Foreign Office has already said that the confirmed attack deserves a serious international response. Ally assistance is a real feasibility.
Israel has already taken action into their own hands, as they have been confirmed to have launched an airstrike in Syrian territory on May 3. Israeli officials have commented that the purpose of the recent attack was to specifically target arms shipments being transferred to Hezbollah groups in Lebanon. Despite the strike, President Obama said that he does not see military invasion as an option. However, the recent bombings may call for a more aggressive response from the United States. This will include arming the Syrian rebels.
Syria has crossed Obama’s “red line” and the use of sarin is condemnable. A NATO influence, if not stern policy constraints that consist of airborne regulations and the creation of safe havens, are needed to put pressure on al-Assad and his regime. If the chemical warfare continues, rebel aid and military support will be necessary to secure Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile.