In 1925 a treatise called the Geneva Protocol, which prohibited and condemned the use of chemical and biological weapons, was signed. Ironically, the treatise did not address the production, storage and/or transfer of these weapons; these minor details were addressed in later agreements.
It is important to understand the heavy implications carried by the term ‘chemical weapon’. Identified as weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons deliver the promise of killing people indiscriminately and on a massive scale. The most widespread use of chemical weapons is documented to have taken place during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war by the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Who can forget the Halabja Massacre of March 1988 when chemical weapons were deployed in the Kurdish town Halabja after its fall to the Iranian forces and Kurdish guerillas? .An estimated number of 3200 to 5000 people were killed and as much as 10, 000 injured. The incident, officially defined as an act of genocidal massacre carried against the Kurdish people of Iraq, remains one of the worst to have happened in the history of mankind.
Therefore, it becomes a matter of little wonder, when alleged widespread use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria, on the 21st of August 2013 set the heart of people all over the world aflutter. The YouTube videos as uploaded by Syrian activists notwithstanding, U.S. president Barrack Obama apparently had plenty of reason to believe that the time has come for an American intervention. But the Russian-backed Assad regime is safe as long as the Russian government remains opposed to the idea of American boots on Syrian soil.
A breakthrough came about just last Saturday when the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed an agreement that basically guaranteed the safety of Syria against a U.S. military strike as long as the Assad regime was willing to place its chemical stockpile under international scrutiny and disposal. The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) would be in charge of getting rid of an estimated 1000 metric tons of chemical arsenal, a mission made more complicated by the ongoing civil war in Syria.
The genius of this disarmament strategy can be appreciated thus: the treaty not only saves Obama from humiliation in Congress but also from critique by the international community. A diplomatic arrangement between the Russian and American governments would serve as a stepping stone towards a better relationship in the future. And the balance of power would shift towards the rebel forces in Syria and away from the Assad regime, if only a little.
The world can finally sigh in relief; another debacle like the one that ensued after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the last thing that anyone wanted. Yet, at the back of everybody’s mind lurks a question: What will happen if either Russia or Syria refuses to follow through with the promises of relinquishing these chemical weapons, or obstructs the process of their eradication? What, indeed?