Chemical weapons: truth and lies

The Convention for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (CWC), which the Syrian government has now ratified, was established in Paris on 12 January 1993 and prohibits the production, storage, use and export of chemical armaments. The CWC calls for the destruction of existing stocks and aimed for the total destruction of the world’s chemical weapons by 2007. Following Syria’s decision, the only nations not to have signed or ratified the treaty are Israel, Egypt, South Sudan, North Korea, Angola and Burma. Joey Simons reports.

In his address to the United Nations on 24 September, President Barack Obama challenged the UN Security Council to hold Syria accountable if it failed to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles. ‘If we cannot agree even on this,’ Obama said, ‘then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws.’

That same week, the US explicitly opposed a resolution to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency calling on Israel to join a global treaty limiting nuclear arms. The resolution was defeated by 51 votes against and 43 in favour, with 32 abstentions. There is no pressure from the US for the Zionist regime to enforce ‘the most basic of international laws’. The US journal Foreign Policy in September published an article citing a newly uncovered CIA document from 1983 alleging that Israel was likely to have developed chemical weapons.

From its inception, the US has sought to undermine the CWC. Congress finally ratified the Convention in 1997, but only after significantly reducing its scope: the US President could prevent any inspection deemed a threat to national security; samples collected in the US could not leave national territory; and the number of industrial sites having to be declared was considerably reduced. Jose Bustani, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, had attempted to inspect US sites: ‘Time and again our inspectors were refused entry to the chemical plants. So it was impossible to determine if these sites were producing chemicals for peaceful purposes.’ In 2002, the US forced his removal after he had tried to persuade Iraq to become a CWC signatory, which would have undermined imperialism’s war drive.

Despite agreeing to decommission the 31,000 tonnes of sarin, VX, mustard gas and other agents it possessed within ten years, in 2007 the US requested the maximum extension of the deadline permitted by the CWC – five years. It failed in this and last year claimed they would be gone by 2021. As George Monbiot commented in The Guardian, ‘Russia has now urged Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control. Perhaps it should press the US to do the same.’

On 4 September 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated, ‘In the nearly 100 years since this global commitment against chemical weapons was made, only two tyrants have dared to cross the world’s brightest line. Bashar al-Assad has now become the third.’ Kerry was presumably referring to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein, alongside Assad.

The reality is that in the nearly 100 years since chlorine gas drifted across the killing fields of Ypres, the capitalist class has never hesitated to deploy the deadliest chemicals it possesses to crush any challenge to its power. In 1919 the RAF dropped mustard gas bombs on Bolshevik troops. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State in the War Office during Britain’s barbaric suppression of Arab and Kurdish revolts in 1920, declared himself ‘strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes’, and fascist Italy murdered 100,000 Abyssinians by similar means in 1935 while the League of Nations stood by. The US sprayed 20m gallons of toxic herbicide over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from 1962-1971; the Vietnamese government estimates nearly 400,000 were killed or maimed and 500,000 children born with defects as a result; they are still being born. The US government refuses to apologise for what was the worst ever use of chemical weapons. Recently declassified CIA documents reveal the Reagan administration’s sanctioning of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks during the Iran-Iraq war. The US, Britain and other western countries supplied the nerve gas used by Iraq to massacre 5,000 Kurds at Halabja in 1988. Between 2004-2010 British companies sold Syria the ingredients for producing sarin. The US army’s deployment of depleted uranium and white phosphorus during the invasion of Iraq, and particularly the attack on Fallujah in 2004, has led to the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied. Christopher Busby, Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, told Russia Today: ‘... these are really terrible weapons. These are weapons which have absolutely destroyed the genetic integrity of the population of Iraq.’ The Israeli Defence Force deployed similar weapons in Gaza’s densely populated civilian areas during its murderous 2008-09 invasion.

In 2007, the British Medical Association was forced to publish a new report on ‘tactical pharmacology’. The Use of Drugs as Weapons, the third of its publications, warned about the militarisation of medicine and its potential for new forms of warfare. The real threat to humanity is not Syria, but the imperialist system which demands such barbarity.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013


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