Yesterday President Obama threatened military force against Syria if there were indications that the Assad regime was preparing its chemical weapons for deployment. This was the American president’s first directly threat of force against the Syrian regime since the rebellion began over 18 months ago.
I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation. But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. … We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation. … We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.
But what is it about chemical weapons as a category of military technology that sets them apart for international opprobrium? According to estimates, around 18,000 Syrians have already been killed since the fighting started, and the regime’s use of airstrikes and high explosives have not drawn similar imminent threats of force though they have destructive force similar to chemical weapons. Indeed, the Syrian regime has explicitly stated that it will not use its stockpile of chemical weapons against its own people — but has stated that it may use them against international forces.
So why the taboo on chemical weapons? Continue reading