Chemical Weapons Used by the Western Democracies

The exotic foreign policy of the United Kingdom is about to become a great deal more exotic. Parliament has been recalled four days early in order to debate whether some kind of military action should be undertaken by the United Kingdom in Syria. The United States is also proposing some kind of military action as is France. They are concerned to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria. That is the stated concern and it has arisen because 355 people have died in Syria as a result of a chemical weapons attack.

The use of chemical weapons is forbidden by International law. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons describes them as “any toxic chemical or its precursor that can cause death, injury, temporary incapacitation or sensory irritation through its chemical action. Munitions or other delivery devices designed to deliver chemical weapons, whether filled or unfilled, are also considered weapons themselves.” The Geneva Convention of 1925 prohibited Chemical weapons and this Convention was strengthened by another Convention in 1972. The prohibition has existed for many decades in one form or another and its rationale is that the use of chemical weapons is so disgusting and appalling that all chemical weapons should be banned.

It is interesting to note that under the definition of chemical weapons there are weapons of warfare commonly used by the Western Democracies that seem to my untrained mind to be chemical weapons but have somehow escaped the ban and the worldwide condemnation that the use of chemical weapons brings. For example, the United States used napalm, a sticky incendiary gelling agent that burns flesh in Vietnam. In 1980 the United Nations declared the use of napalm as a war crime.

It also used agent orange, a herbicide and defoliant in Vietnam. The Vietnamese claim that 400,000 people were killed or maimed by it and a further one million people have been disabled or have health problems as a result. The United States claims these figures are unrealistically high; one thing is clear: far more than 355 people (the number killed in Syria) have been killed by the United States’ use of napalm and agent orange.

The United States has also recently used depleted uranium munition in warfare, and all the major Western Democracies have depleted uranium munitions in large quantities. To my simple mind the use of depleted uranium munitions is the use of a chemical weapon; it matters not that the prime purpose of depleted uranium munitions is to kill in a traditional way as other munitions kill; the by product is to chemically affect people (often not involved in fighting) in their kidney and other major organ functions.

I cannot help but think that the outcry about the use of chemical weapons in Syria is rather hypocritical. It is the same old story; the strong make international laws to protect themselves and only enforce such laws that suit them.

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