The ridding of chemical weapons in Syria

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President of Syria Bashar al-Assad /Image: blogs.ise.ac.uk

President of Syria Bashar al-Assad /Image: blogs.ise.ac.uk

U of R prof discusses the chemical weapons side show in the civil war.

Article: Paige Kreutzwieser – Staff Writer

Syria met major deadlines set out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Oct. 31.

The OPCW inspected 21 of the 23 chemical weapons sites located within the country, stating that the Syrian regime has destroyed all of its declared production and mixing facilities.

The remaining two chemical weapons sites were too dangerous to inspect, according to the organization. Because the OPCW were given the job to make sure that Syrians destroyed the facilities, they were awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

“99 per cent of the time they don’t have very much to do,” said Dr. Martin Hewson, Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Regina, of the international watchdog.

“First of all, there are not many countries that have chemical weapons,” explained Hewson. “And second of all, most of those countries don’t actually allow them to visit their chemical weapons.”

Hewson believes that although the country has met the initial targets set out by the OPCW, there are a number of other targets they will have to meet.

A deadline of mid-2014 was given to Syria to destroy its entire stockpile of chemical weapons.

“One of the problems in Syria is that there is a civil war raging and the government doesn’t control the whole of the country,” stated Hewson.

“So, whether these inspectors will be able to get to areas where there is rebel control or where there is fighting we don’t know.”

Syria continues to have civil war, and millions of refugees have fled and continue to flee, and the estimated 200,000 death toll is still rising.

Hewson sees this destruction of chemical weapons making no difference to any of that. “I think it a little odd when 200,000 people dead through conventional weapons by both rebels and government, but just over 1,000 killed by a chemical weapons attack in the summer creates the outcry.”

“It is a very strange world. Somehow it is worse to be killed by poison gas than to have your body ripped apart by bullets, shells and bombs.”

Alex Cousins, second year political science major at the U of R, agrees with Hewson that conventional air strikes have done far more damage to the Syrian people than chemical weapon strikes have. “The reaction I get to the stuff about chemical weapons is this is a really convenient way for the Obama administration to get the electoral response that they are doing something about Syria… but it really doesn’t mean anything to the Syrian people.”

[pullquote]”All this chemical weapons is frankly a bit of a side show. The proportion of people of people killed by that poisonous gas is a tiny drop in the ocean compared to the number of people killed in the whole civil war.”[/pullquote]

Cousins also echoes Hewson that the number of deaths won’t change just because the Assad government has one less weapon to use. “You can’t exactly ban assault rifles. What are you going to do? Try and melt down everyone’s assault rifles? That’s not going to work.”

He also believes the 2014 stockpile destruction deadline is improbable. “These UN observers will come in and try and find these chemical weapons, which they will never find because there is a war going on.”

And both Hewson and Cousins agree, even if the deadline is met, it is not going to matter regardless.

“All this chemical weapons is frankly a bit of a side show,” said Hewson. “The proportion of people of people killed by that poisonous gas is a tiny drop in the ocean compared to the number of people killed in the whole civil war.”

Hewson believes the next step may attempts at diplomacy with some form of agreement, but “that doesn’t mean both sides will stick to it.”

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