In Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s backers have lost sight of why chemical weapons are not allowed on – or off – the battlefield. The rest of the world has to establish a wider cost for such awful behaviour
In 2013, Barack Obama made a bargain with Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, brokered by Russia, the latter’s ally. The United States withdrew its threat to attack Mr Assad’s regime for using sarin against Syrians in Damascus that summer. Hundreds died in the deadliest use of chemical weapons since the Iran–Iraq war. Mr Assad denied he had used such weapons, but in return for US restraint his regime agreed to dismantle its chemical weapons programme. Much of the country’s banned substances were thought to have been destroyed, and Syria joined the treaty against their use.
Yet as the years have unfolded, Mr Assad, a ruthless dictator who the world would be better without, has made a mockery of the agreement. Syria’s civil war, now in its seventh year, has been wreathed in toxic fumes. Experts from the UN and the chemical weapons watchdog said the Syrian regime has used helicopters to dump chlorine gas on opponents. Chlorine is not a banned substance, since it has commercial uses, but its use as a weapon is. The watchdog last year said Mr Assad’s forces also used sarin gas, a nerve agent, to kill more than 90 people in Khan Sheikhun. There have been an estimated score or more of incidents of chemical weapons use since then.