This brief Chemical Weapons Syria Fact Sheet provides an overview for everything you should know about chemical weapons in Syria related to the Syrian Civil War.
(This fact sheet will be updated regularly as new information becomes available so please check back often.)
How Many Chemical Weapons Attacks Have Taken Place in Syria
Human Rights Watch has currently alleged 85 separate chemical weapons attacks in Syrian since 2013. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has meanwhile confirmed 34 separate chemical weapons attacks in the same time period.
Who is Responsible for the Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria
The horrific nature of the Syrian conflict is demonstrated in part by the fact that all sides of the conflict have been accused and suspected of using chemical weapons at some point since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. Officially, most of the chemical weapons attacks have been attributed to the Syrian regime operating under Bashar al-Assad. In 2013 the Obama administration stated: “We assess with high confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year, including in the Damascus suburbs.”
Assad states that the chemical weapons attacks have been performed by his enemies in an effort to turn the world against him. They rebel groups deny this.
Where did the Chemical Weapons in Syria Come From
As of 2013 there was more than 13,000 tons of chemical agents noted on the official record. These were held in China (left by Japan after World War 2), United States, Russia, Libya and Iraq. There were the officially declared stockpiles and all of these countries have been promising for some time to destroy their respective stockpile. Iran, Syria and North Korea were believed to have undeclared stockpiles at that time. Also included among this list of holding alleged undeclared stockpiles were Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt, Serbia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Burma.
The Syrian government is believed to possess large stockpiles of chemical weapons that many believe they have weaponized. According to a Congressional Research Report it is believed that Syria received its initial stockpiles of chemical weapons from Egypt in the early 1970s as they prepared for war with Israel. Egypt incidentally had earlier used chemical weapons against Yemen. Since that time the Soviet Union also provided additional chemical weapons.
If you find this “Everything You Should Know About Chemical Weapons Syria Fact Sheet” helpful you might enjoy my wider Complete Guide to the Syrian Civil War and Conflict.
What Kind of Chemical Weapons Are Being Used in Syria
According to the IICISAR 76% of these attacks have been with chlorine, 8% was sarin and the remaining could not be fully identified.
In addition to these attacks are the unofficial stockpiles of chemical weapons that are held by the Syrian government. According to a French intelligence report this included 1,000 tons of chemical agents and precursor chemicals including several hundred tons of Sulphur mustard, several hundred tons of sarin and tens of tons of VX.
What Are the Effects of these Chemical Weapons in Syria
Sulphur mustard is not lethal but there is no antidote for it. Its effects are blistering skin and mucous membranes upon contact.
Sarin is highly toxic and lethal. It is impossible to detect and can spread through the air. It is more than 20 times more toxic than cyanide. It causes the heart and respiratory muscle to begin to spasm. The CDC identifies sarin as the most volatile of the nerve agents. It causes convulsion, paralysis and final respiratory failure.
VX is the most potent of all the nerve the chemical weapon nerve agents. It is 10 times more toxic than sarin. It neutralizes the body’s nervous system.
Why Are Chemical Weapons Considered Worse than Conventional Weapons
Chemical weapons first alarmed the world when they were used in World War I. They represent the original weapon of mass destruction in the 20th century. There was great fear that they would be used widescale upon civilian populations at this time. For that reason, in 1925 many countries signed a Geneva protocol that outlawed the use of chemical weapons.
Chemical weapons have been used in unique instances throughout the 20th century and are frowned upon by much of the world when they are used. That being said, they are not deadlier than conventional weapons such as bombs. There are two primary schools of thought for why we place a greater taboo on chemical weapons than upon conventional weapons in the modern world.
First, we see the results of chemical weapons in the victims of chemical weapons attacks. Syria has served as a good example of this. The world has been outraged to see the corpses of children and adults who have suffered under the effects of chemical weapons attacks. Those same images have not been made available following the use of a bomb or missile.
Secondly, the taboo upon chemical weapons has a strategic value to the major powers who hold a monopoly upon conventional weapons and warfare. By maintaining a cultural taboo upon chemical weapons the mode of modern warfare is kept within the realm where they are dominant.