Unethical Chemicals

The horrors of unconventional warfare


DISTRAUGHT SURVIVOR: Horrified Syrian chemical attack victim           Source: http://slobodari.wordpress.com

While the world mourns the death of hundreds of people killed in the Syrian chemical attack on the 21st August 2013, we analyse the issues surrounding the attack.The Syrian Civil War was the result of the uprising against the regime of president Bashar al-Assad in early 2011 and the United Nations (UN) estimates that over 100 000 people have lost their lives in the war. In relation to the number of deaths in the war, the significance of the estimated 588 people who perished in the chemical attack is a point of discussion.

There is speculation that the Syrian government played a part in the attack and their involvement is currently under investigation.

According to the BBC, two attacks were launched within two minutes of each other, roughly six kilometres east of the centre of Damascus. The first strike was reported being in EinTarm around 02:45 and the second took place in Zamalka, an adjacent district.

The attack consisted of eight rockets being fired and its effects of the attack were catastrophic. Victims that inhaled the gas showed symptoms that suggested nerve gas. Symptoms experienced by some of the victims that survived the ‘inhumane’ attack include: shortness of breath, disorientation, runny noses, eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, general bodily weakness and eventual loss of consciousness.

Since the attack, the UN has had a heavy presence in the country, examining the remains of the rockets used and trying to establish whence the rockets were launched. The UN has publicly stated that it is not its job to determine who fired the rockets, but to rather find out where they came from so that they may search for chemical weapons.

It is speculated that the UN believes that the Syrian military are in possession of over 1 000 tonnes of chemical material, including hundreds of tonnes of Sarin (a colourless, odourless liquid, used as a chemical weapon owing to its extreme potency as a nerve agent). The UN is also investigating allegations into the development and the manufacturing of these weapons.

One may feel that the investigations are a waste of time‒ that the attack is all the evidence needed to prove that the Syrian military are in fact in possession of weapons of mass destruction. But we have to keep in mind the age-old saying ‘innocent until proven guilty’. This counts for governments too. Certain procedures (yes, the same procedures that have placed the Middle East in the situation that it is currently in,) need to be followed in order to establish what really went on and who the real culprits are.

The chemical attack in Syria has caused further unrest between the United States of America and Russia. Tensions between the two countries were already at a high after Russia offered former US computer specialist, CIA and NSA employee Edward Snowden asylum. Tension between the two powerful countries has escalated since the chemical attacks simply because US president Barack Obama has threatened to use military action against the Syrian government. Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with other world leaders and the Pope, have urged the US to remain on neutral ground pertaining to the Syrian attacks. Putin pointed out that every country that in which the US military has intervened, has ended up in a worse condition than before. He cited Iraq and Afghanistan as examples. The tension brewing between the two superpowers has increased over their different opinions on how to handle the situation in Syria.

This issue has also brought UN’s fault lines to the forefront and has left many unanswered questions such as:

Why did it take a chemical weapons attack for the intervention of the U.N in Syria?

Funny enough, it is important to mention that there was a team of UN weapons inspectors in the country at the time of the attack.

Questions have arisen as to whether the attack was aimed at the inspectors, which would be ironic, or whether the attack was meant to the show the UN and the world that the Syrian military is a forced to be reckoned with.

The UN has since sent in more inspectors to visit various sites thought to contain biological weapons and to monitor weapon manufacturers. The UN’s involvement is has been criticised for being long overdue .

Secondly, where do these weapons come from? If something like this could be planned under the radar, is it deathly scary to think what goes on under UN checks and security.

6586km away, Capetonians gave us their opinions about the attack in Syria. We asked members of the public whether they think chemical weapons attacks are worse than death by firearms or explosives. Many of the parties that were asked, if not all, said ‘yes’.

Their reasons can be summarised as:

Firstly, the damage caused by a chemical weapons attack far exceeds the damage caused by a firearm or a bomb. Secondly, chemical weapon attacks are inaccurate, and thirdly, chemical weapon have long term side effects on people as well as on the environment.

Grant Hartzenburg said the following: “The suffering caused by chemical weapons is inhumane and more painful than a slow death. Chemical weapons do not necessarily mean a loss of life but could have such severe side effects that might make the effected party wish that they had been killed instead.”

As far as accuracy is concerned, Junior Beste said that a chemical attack cannot be controlled whereas a firearm can be. He reiterated that chemical attacks effect people on a larger scale and result in hundreds of innocent lives being lost. Gunfire is more supressed and can target a specific person. “The bottom line is that people feel that chemical attacks are a cowardly way of warfare and is downright inhumane.”

Chemical attacks are not prevalent in warfare and people have been deeply shocked by this occurrence. Bombs go off on a regular basis, especially with all the terrorist attacks of late, and death by gunfire happens daily… to the point that we have become desensitised.

Chemical weapons were banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1968 but the treaty was never enforced up until 1997. All chemical weapons were supposed to be destroyed but by 2013 only 78% of all chemical weapons were confirmed to be destroyed. Syria only signed the chemical weapons treaty at the end of August 2013, after the government was put under surveillance by the UN.

Although the Syrian government signed a treaty stating they will no longer manufacture chemical weapons, the Syrian military continues to use cluster bombs to ‘control’ civilians during the civil war. After closely examining the situation in Syria and taking people’s opinions into consideration, we have reached the following conclusion:

Killing is killing, no matter what method is used.

The chemical weapons attack carried out in Syria shocked the world and forced people to realise the severity of the civil war. The reality is that someone, somewhere in Syria is in possession of weapons of mass destruction, and if they can get away with it this time, then nothing stands in the way of their carrying out such an attack again… possibly on a much larger scale.

Francesca Villette and Carl Abrahams


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