As of 5 September 2013 the British government has presented evidence to the United Nations that indicates on or about 26 August 2013 President Bashar al-Assad had utilized chemical weapons on the Syrian population in an attempt to quell the civil war that has been raging in that country since 2011.
In total it is believed that 100,000 people have been killed throughout the war and “Millions of Syrians are displaced.” (Levs) This information has been presented to the United Nations in an effort to assist the decision making process as to whether UN military action should or should not be taken in Syria. While major world leaders have been discussing taking military action against Syria, it has been reported that the use of Sarin gas is “the largest mass killing of the Syrian civil war, and most likely the deadliest chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein’s troops killed thousands of Kurds with Sarin gas during the waning days of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.” (Hubbard, Mazzetti, and Landler)
Statements have been made to support the idea that Iran and Russia will support Syria in a war against the west “Early this year, Ali Akbar Velayati, the top international affairs adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said of Syria's embattled president: "Bashar al-Assad is our red line and we will support him to the end." Three weeks ago, the conservative Alef website featured a letter from Assad that was hand delivered to Khamenei, which read: "With the support of steadfast, visionary and strong allies like Iran we are certain of victory." (Bureau) Russia has also made statements that it would support Syria in any military action undertaken by the United States. And if Russia and Iran are willing to assist Syria against a war with the United States/United Nations, would these nations (Russia, Syria, Iran) be willing to utilize weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) against the United States and its allies.
Of impact for the United States is does Iran possess chemical weapons and if so, will the Iranians be willing to use these weapons against the United States?
Intelligence indicates that the Iranian chemical weapons program began at some point in the mid to late 1980s. There are several potential reasons for this “U.S. and British intelligence sources reported in August 1989 that Iran was trying to buy two new strains of fungus from Canada and the Netherlands that can be used to produce mycotoxins. German sources indicated that Iran had successfully purchased such cultures several years earlier.” (Cordesman and Seitz 2008) If this information proves to be accurate, the start date for an Iranian biological weapons program would put these programs years behind other nations, such as Russia (which began their biological weapons program in the 1930s) and the United States (such ended its offensive biological weapons program in 1969). This information may indicate that Iran did not possess the technological skill to attempt to develop chemical or biological weapons before the 1980s. It may also be possible that Iran had no intention of developing WMDs until the Iran/Iraq War in which Iraq deployed chemical weapons against Iran. “But its technical capabilities may have not reached the point at which this goal can be achieved. The risk of a biologically armed Iran may exhibit inverse conditions: Iran already possesses the requisite technical capabilities to build at least a limited (and potentially extensive) biological weapons arsenal, but Iran may not have the intent to do so.”(http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy1.apus.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=9&sid=4f1fc505-77d5-431f-a1da-5071051a0d1b%40sessionmgr13&hid=14) This may serve as an indication that beginning in the 1980s the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation were involved in some way with assisting Iran with developing a biological weapons program. In relation to this “popular wisdom holds that the country’s leadership has most likely established an intent to become a nuclear weapons power.” (http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy1.apus.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=9&sid=4f1fc505-77d5-431f-a1da-5071051a0d1b%40sessionmgr13&hid=14)
As conventional wisdom states that Iran has the desire to become a nuclear nation, it is likely that Iran will also have attempted to develop other types of WMDs. If they were lacking the scientific and technological ability to operate these programs on their own, it is likely that Iran will attempt to purchase the technology and scientific knowledge to begin production of this type of program.
One potential reason that the Iranian chemical weapons program began much later than other chemical weapons programs may be due to military reasons “Iraq used chemical weapons extensively against the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988).” (Mousavi, Batool, Soroush, and Montazeri. 2009). As outlined above it may be that before the Iran/Iraq war Iran had no intention of developing a WMD program and may have begun this program only to defend it against Iraqi chemical weapons.
In addition to the use of WMDs by Iraq recently declassified information reveals that the United States was involved with the sale of chemical and biological weapons to Iraq during this time period. “A review of thousands of declassified government documents and interviews with former policymakers shows that U.S. intelligence and logistical support played a crucial role in shoring up Iraqi defenses against the “human wave” attacks by suicidal Iranian troops. The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague.” (Kessler) The United States was supplying WMDs to Iraq during the Iran/Iraq war; it is likely that the Soviet Union (and the current Russian Federation) would be supplying arms (in the form of conventional and non-conventional weapons) to Iran during the war.
As a case in point, in the 1990s a Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was convened that would prevent the use and stock piling of chemical weapons. The CWC would also require inspections to ensure that chemical weapons stock piles have been destroyed “only 11 percent of the 70,000 metric tons of declared chemical weapons worldwide has been destroyed, as of November 2003.” (Christoff 2004). A review of the above referenced information seems to indicate that governments that are involved in the CWC have destroyed older chemical weapons (being weapons that are either too old to be effective or too dangerous to deploy) but are still stockpiling newer weapons and may in fact still be producing said weapons. In addition a “2001 Department of State report assesses that China, Iran, Russia, and Sudan have not fully declared the extent of their chemical weapons programs.” (Christoff 2004). Without having a clear idea regarding the scope and nature of the chemical weapons program in Russia and Iran specifically it will be difficult to assess with any level of certainty how many chemical weapons have been manufactured, how many weapons have been stockpiled and how many (if any) have been destroyed. Not having access to this information it is therefore not possible to determine if Iran is in compliance with “The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) entered into force in April 1997. It is the only multilateral treaty that seeks to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction within an established time frame and verify their destruction through inspections and monitoring. Specifically, the convention bans the production, possession, and use of chemical weapons and requires the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles by 2007 with possible extensions to 2012.” (Christoff 2004). The CWC requires what is known as “'challenge inspection', whereby any State Party in doubt about another State Party's compliance can request the Director-General to send an inspection team. Under the CWC's 'challenge inspection' procedure, States Parties have committed themselves to the principle of 'anytime, anywhere' inspections with no right of refusal.” (Chemical Weapons Convention) All parties to the CWC must allow for inspections of chemical weapon manufacturing plants and/or inspection of suspected manufacturing plants. These inspections would be conducted to maintain the scheduled destruction of chemical weapons of 2012.
However, since it is alleged that on 21 August 2013 Syria utilized chemical weapons against rebel groups and that “the death toll at 1,429, including 426 children and has blamed the Syrian government, based on its intelligence.” (BBC News) It seems unlikely that nations such as Russia, Iran and Syria (among others) are being deceptive as to the nature of their chemical weapons programs. While the CWC is a positive step toward eliminating the use of chemical weapons, weapons inspectors can only identify and verify locations were they are allowed to inspect. Since chemical and/or biological weapons production is now being conducted in violation of treaty it is unlikely that any nation will be completely honest about the nature of their programs. If a nation chooses to lie about the size, scope and nature of their chemical weapons program it will not be possible to verify that all weapons have been destroyed.
“In the last decade, the U.S. government has taken many steps to address NBC weapons proliferation.4 According to the Bush Administration, past efforts relied principally on passive measures, such as arms control and nonproliferation regimes, export controls, and diplomacy. New efforts to complement this approach will focus on working “in concert with like-minded nations, and on our own, to prevent terrorists and terrorist regimes from acquiring or using WMD.”5 In December 2002, the White House released the “National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction,” which divided policy into three pillars: counter proliferation to combat WMD use; strengthened nonproliferation to combat WMD proliferation; and consequence management to respond to WMD use.” (Squassoni 2005). Positive attempts have been made in recent years to limit if not eliminate the threat posed by chemical weapons. However, recent events in Syria have proven that rogue nations are still in possession of chemical weapons and that other nations that are hostile to the United States and its allies may also be in possession of chemical weapons. This indicates that there is a clear and continuing threat of the use of chemical weapons during war time or to potentially to be used as part of terrorist activity.
In August of 2013 it is alleged that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria authorized the use of chemical weapons against rebel groups within Syria in an attempt to end the two year old civil war that has been raging in that country. Syria’s use of chemical weapons have brought up the question of other nations that may be in possession of chemical weapons and may be willing to intervene on Syria’s behalf if a U.S. led attack on that country were to occur.
President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation has made statements that indicate that if the United States or its allies were to attack Syria that the Russian Federation would support Syria in any military action. It is well know that the former Soviet Union was responsible for the largest and most sophisticated biological weapons program in the world. It has been difficult to identify if these weapons are still possessed by the Russian Federation. Given how large the WMD program in the Soviet Union was it is likely that the Russian Federation is still in possession of WMDs. Add to this, the Islamic Republic of Iran is also an ally of Syria. If the United States were to engage in military action against Syria it is also likely that Iran will enter a war on the side of Syria. This had the potential to pose several threats to the United States.
During the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s the United States was actively supporting Iraq this included selling chemical weapons or components that could be used in chemical weapons to Iraq to be used against Iran. Intelligence indicates that Iran did not possess the technology to develop chemical weapons before the early 1980s. This was decades after other nations (Russia and China) had developed their chemical and biological weapons programs. It is likely that Iran developed a chemical weapons program to defend itself against Iraqi chemical weapons. As Iran, Russia and Syria are allies it is likely that the technology to develop chemical weapons in both Iran and Syria came from Russia. Given the fact that all of these nations are now in possession of chemical weapons any U.S. led war that is directed at Syria that will also involve (at the very least on a financial level in terms monetary support for a war or military support through the selling of military technology) Russia and Iran will most likely also involved all of these nations using chemical weapons against U.S. forces.
Russia has admitted to the fact that it had developed chemical and biological weapons but claim that the activity ended sometime around 1992. It is not possible for verify these claims. Also, there is more than ample evidence to indicate that Iran is also in possession of chemical weapons, it is also not possible to verify if Iran is still in possession of these weapons. Based around the fact that Syria deployed chemical weapons to end the civil war in that country it is likely that Syria would also utilize these weapons against U.S. forces. Considering the fact that Iran and Russia are still likely to possess chemical weapons it is also likely that these nations would also be willing to deploy chemical weapons against U.S. forces in a war against Syria.
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