COMMENT Syria's chemical weapons
and the legacy of duplicity
By Hossein Askari
The production, stockpiling and use of chemical and biological weapons must be condemned and confronted in every instance. It is with good reason that the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1992 and has been ratified by 189 nations.
Similarly, 170 nations have adopted the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Given the near universal adoption of these conventions, you would expect that the production, stockpiling
and use of chemical and biological weapons would be consistently condemned.
To this end, the United States, the UK, Germany, France and a number of ''concerned'' states have strongly condemned the alleged and potential use of chemical weapons in Syria. The United States has in the past even designated the use of chemical weapons as its ''Red Line'' for supplying arms to the opposition and even intervening militarily in the conflict.
On August 22, President Barack Obama referred to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Bashar al-Assad regime as a "big event of grave concern"; French Foreign Minister Fabius has warned that "France must react with force if the use of chemical weapons is confirmed"; and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said, "any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law. Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator."
With such widespread condemnation, some may conclude that the Western world and the UN have occupied the moral high ground and stood tall in opposing the use of such weapons. Thus such admonition with such moral support will surely succeed in forcing al-Assad to refrain from (further) use of such weaponry. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian supporters are probably laughing at all this Western and UN condemnation and with good reason. It was the West that not only gave Saddam Hussein such weaponry during the Iran-Iraq War but also looked the other way as he massacred tens of thousands of Iranians. The United Nations did little to stop such genocide.
As expected, such blatant duplicity emboldened Saddam Hussein. The use of banned weapons must have seemed okay to the Iraqi dictator as long as it was used against the perceived adversaries of the West. It was only later, after Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons to kill thousands of Iraqi Kurds, that a number of US lawmakers became outraged and took action.
What is the moral of this tale of two events? The selective application of international conventions carries a price. It undermines conventions and the international laws that support them, it gives cover to transgressors, and makes international conventions essentially ineffective.
Global powers, be they the West, China or Russia, cannot flaunt international conventions and laws and expect to be taken seriously when they protest their circumvention. For the world to have a chance of reducing massacres and genocide around the globe, international conventions and laws must always trump national expediency and short-term interests.
Hossein Askari is Professor of Business and International Affairs at the George Washington University.