The United States and European allies launched airstrikes on Friday night against Syrian research, storage and military targets as President Trump sought to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack near Damascus last weekend that killed more than 40 people.
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council “if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons again, the U.S. is locked and loaded.” Such a proclamation risks bringing more American involvement into Syria, which has been engulfed in fighting since 2011 when civil unrest tied to the Arab Spring movement escalated into a full-blown rebellion against Assad. There are about 2,000 U.S. troops currently inside the country, where they’re focused on fighting the last remnants of ISIS.
Britain and France joined the United States in the strikes in a coordinated operation that was intended to show Western resolve in the face of what the leaders of the three nations called persistent violations of international law. Mr Trump characterized it as the beginning of a sustained effort to force Mr Assad to stop using banned weapons, but only ordered a limited, one-night operation that hit three targets.
“These are not the actions of a man,” Mr Trump said of last weekend’s suspected chemical attack in a televised address from the White House Diplomatic Room. “They are crimes of a monster instead.”
Shortly after the attack, the Syrian presidency posted on Twitter, “Honorable souls cannot be humiliated.”
The strikes risked pulling the United States deeper into the complex, multisided war in Syria and raised the possibility of confrontation with Russia and Iran, both of which were supporting Mr Assad with military forces. Within 90 minutes, the Russian ambassador to the United States warned of “consequences” for the allied attacks.
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is a multilateral treaty that bans chemical weapons and requires their destruction within a specified period of time. The treaty is of unlimited duration and is far more comprehensive than the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which outlaws the use but not the possession of chemical weapons.
CWC negotiations started in 1980 in the UN Conference on Disarmament. The convention opened for signature on January 13, 1993, and entered into force on April 29, 1997.
The CWC is implemented by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is headquartered in The Hague with about 500 employees. The OPCW receives states-parties’ declarations detailing chemical weapons-related activities or materials and relevant industrial activities. After receiving declarations, the OPCW inspects and monitors states-parties’ facilities and activities that are relevant to the convention, to ensure compliance.
The CWC is open to all nations and currently has 192 states-parties. Israel has signed but has yet to ratify the convention. Three states have neither signed nor ratified the convention (Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan).
- The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits:
- Developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons.
- The direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons.
- Chemical weapons use or military preparation for use.
- Assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to engage in the CWC-prohibited activity.
- The use of riot control agents “as a method of warfare.”
- The convention requires states-parties to destroy:
- All chemical weapons under their jurisdiction or control.
- All chemical weapons production facilities under their jurisdiction or control.
- Chemical weapons abandoned on other states’ territories.
- Old chemical weapons.
The convention encourages trade among states-parties, calling upon them not to maintain restrictions on one another that would hamper the trade of chemical-related items to be used for peaceful purposes. The convention does restrict trade with non-states-parties, outlawing the transfer of Schedule 1 and 2 chemicals. To ensure that Schedule 3 transfers to non-states-parties are not used for purposes prohibited by the convention, the CWC requires exporting states-parties to obtain an end-use certificate from importing states.