Chemical Weapons in the Spotlight

by JUDY BELLO

The Nobel Peace Prize, it’s luster dulled by the wars of Barack Obama and the EU,  and Henry Kissinger’s lifetime record of supporting massacres, dictators and Israeli exceptionalism, was presented to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons this year.   According to Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the award was not necessarily for their current work in Syria where they are currently dismantling the national stores of Chemical Weapons, but for a history of work  around the world to dispose of chemical weapons.  Although the ongoing proxy war is an impediment to the process of  dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons, according to Paul Walker, Program Director of the Environmental Sustainability and Sustainability Program at Green Cross International in a Democracy Now! (1) interview today, the process is relatively straight forward as most of Syria’s chemical weapons are in the form of  (dual use) precursor chemicals stored in large drums.    This would indicate that the largest portion of Syria’s chemical weapons are not (as of yet) chemical weapons at all, a perspective that was not explored during that dialog.

Only a handful of nations are not participants in the United Nations Convention on Chemical Weapons.   Syria has just signed up, Egypt is not interested in signing on, and  Israel has signed, but not ratified the Convention.   The U.S. is in the process of dismantling it’s chemical weapons, but the work is behind schedule.  U.S. chemical weapons are conveniently stored in 2 locations, and are being destroyed on the bases where they reside.  Among the problems are the diversity of substances involved, including  mustard gas, sarin and even more poisonous neurotoxins; the severe toxicity of these substances; the fact that about half the U.S, stockpile is a weaponized.   What wasn’t mentioned is the fact that the United States has been using white phosphorus and weapons made of depleted uranium with impunity in in the wars of the last decade.

White phosphorus is a dual use chemical itself, which is allowed in war to create light for targeting.   However, it is not allowed to be used  against human beings as it burns through the skin to the bone, and continues to burn when exposed to air even after it appears to be ‘burned out’.   Depleted uranium (DU) is controversial in the sense that the U.S. government denies it is toxic, though there is mounting evidence that is the case.   It is, after all, uranium, which has a radioactive half life of 4.47 billion years.

Use of DU in war is very convenient, economical and even, you might say, a conservation initiative.    Used up fuel from power plants and other nuclear technology purposes is  very difficult to dispose of.   No one wants it buried in their back yard..   Converted to DU, it forms a substance that is very hard, hard enough to drill through armored tanks and other high tech defenses.    However, it is difficult to defend taking this substance that is too toxic for safe storage at home, and distributing it across the landscape of countries where we are prosecuting imperial wars for resources, or just for dominance.   Hence, denial is the only recourse.

I  tend to be a skeptic when it comes to the use of formal processes and International agencies to rein in  Imperial abuses.   In many cases these efforts target only the weak, while the powerful continue unabashed to pursue their interests in any manner they choose while the global agencies operate at their behest.   Examples are the International Criminal Court targeting Africa and the International Atomic Energy Agency being used to target Iran.    In the former case, you can’t say there were never any abuses; merely that only some criminals are subject to the law.   In the latter, the agency is being used to override and obscure the very rights it was created to safeguard, while the most egregious violations of it’s mandate go unmentioned;  not just unpunished or unmoderated, but unmentioned.  Iraq’s nuclear arms were dismantled by the self appointed arbiters of the ‘Global Community’ shortly before Iraq itself was dismantled by the very same players, for her own good.

However, one might see a positive trend in this moment.   The possibility of a Nuclear Free Zone in the Middle East, though persistently blocked by the United States, is once again a subject for open consideration within the region and within the international community.   Globally, the No Fly Zone is no longer a respectable option for Humanitarian Intervention, nor will the true global community, the one represented by the General Assembly, accept such behavior as righteous.   Russia and China have repeatedly blocked a Western assault on Syria in the name of Human Rights.    Whatever ulterior motives have been attributed to them, they have stood up for  dialog and reconciliation within Syria as opposed to fueling an increasingly violent and chaotic insurrection.   Those in the U.S. and E.U. who insist on driving this process towards a pivotal singularity of deposing the current President seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of a political collapse and the dismemberment of the country where there is no united force to replace his government, and no popular choice to replace him at the epicenter.

According to Steven Zunes, Syria proposed a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone to the Security Council of the United Nations during their temporary membership  in 2002 which was tabled due to a U.S. threat of a a veto.     Syria has called for peace, while the U.S. insists that Israel, it’s toehold in the region,  remain armed with the latest and most powerful weaponry on earth.    This issue has also been supported by Iranian diplomats.  This is a regional issue and should be addressed by the people of the region with the support of international community.  Imperial prerogatives continue to undermine peace and security in the Middle East now, just has they have done for more than 100 years.

But perhaps a new day is coming.   Pakistan is demanding an end to U.S. Drone Strikes in the (FATA) Tribal Lands while even the quisling government in Afghanistan is demanding an end to the war on civilians that appears to be the common result of so called counter-insurgency operations there.   Iran has a new president who talks about a Peace WAVE, a World Against Violence and Extremism.   I love his language as it reflects our Gandhian Wave strategy at Hancock airfield,  a primary center of control for Reaper Drones over Afghanistan, and soon, over upstate New York as well.  You can’t end violence and extremism through the use of violence and extremism.   And I’m thinking that Iran, the primary target of Saddam Hussein’s Chemical Weapons for nearly eight years, would celebrate a Chemical Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East.  Iran has a Peace Museum in Tehran, run by the members of the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support, a group of war veterans healing their war trauma  through working for a peaceful future.

The world is tired of war, and some big players are trying to change the game.  Now the Russians have pulled the rabbit from John Kerry’s hat with the the Assad Government’s agreement to sign the Chemical Weapons Treaty and dispense with their chemical stores immediately, thereby saving Obama from a disastrous war, and perhaps giving the Assad regime an opportunity for international  cooperation that would not be undermined by ruthless opposition forces.  A remaining question is, “Where are those Chemical Weapons showing up here and there in Syria coming from?”

Judy Bello writes The Deconstructed Globe blog. You can reach her at jb.papillonweb@gmail.com

Judith Bello is a long time peace and justice activist who blogs at The Deconstructed Globe.     She is a charter member of  The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, which is a statewide organization that is in a confrontation with Hancock Air National Guard Base to end their piloting of Reaper drones over Afghanistan and the use of  weaponized drones for targeted killing around the world.   She administers the website for the Upstate Coalition, along with the websites for several other peace and justice organizations.  Offline, she lives in a suburb of Rochester, NY.

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