Fabian Bimmer / Reuters Destroyed World War Two weapons are displayed during a media demonstration at the Society for the Disposal of Chemical Weapons and Ordnance (GEKA) in Munster, March 5, 2014.

Assad's Phony Farewell to Arms

Syria's Chemical Weapons Programs

On October 27, Syria’s citizens might finally see some justice. That day, the United Nations Security Council will meet to discuss the latest report from international inspectors who have gathered copious evidence that Syria has been a blatant violator of the 1997 treaty banning the development, production, stockpiling, and use of any toxic chemical in war.

Nothing in the report should be surprising. As I wrote in 2013, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad bowed to Russian and U.S. pressure following his use of sarin gas on civilians and joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, it was not likely that he would just “meekly” forfeit his chemical weapons capabilities “barring a miraculous personality change.” Indeed, given his merciless conduct of the war—including the calculated use of poison gas to kill, injure, and terrorize rebel civilians—Assad was practically bound to cheat.

To be sure, after joining the chemical convention, Syria at first played by the rules, declaring 1,230 unfilled chemical munitions and 1,290 metric tons of sulfur mustard and various chemical “precursors” that are used to make poison gas. The treaty’s watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), monitored the destruction of those weapons, certifying the job complete in January 2016. From the outset, however, Syria signaled its intent to thumb its nose at the convention, including by filing requests to convert poison gas sites to peaceful purposes and balking at destroying a dozen underground structures that held chemical weapons production facilities.

People ride their motorcycle past the U.N. convoy during its return from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack, in Damascus August 29, 2013.

People ride their motorcycle past the U.N. convoy during its return from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack, in Damascus August 29, 2013.

Even more ominously, beginning in April 2014, several towns in rebel areas were bombarded with chemical barrel bombs. A September 2014 OPCW report found “compelling confirmation” of chlorine attacks in Talmenes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zeta. And August 2016 and October 2016 reports from a joint team of UN/OPCW inspectors determined that chlorine was used in an April 2014 attack on Talmenes and a March 2015 strike on Sarmin. The investigators also found that the victims of a March 2015 attack on Qmenas had symptoms consistent with chlorine exposure.

Damascus and Moscow have argued that the

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