Mustard Gas EffectsSulfur mustard gas is a potent chemical agent that people infamously used in World War I because of its devastating effect. Upwards of 120,000 people died from the effects of mustard gas during the first World War, leading the international community to ban the use of mustard gas in the Geneva Protocol. Despite being banned nearly 100 years ago, the threat of mustard gas remains in the 21st century, as evidenced by its use in Iraq by the Islamic State against American forces several years ago in 2016.

The Function of Mustard Gas

Mustard gas has a distinct smell, often described as a potent mixture of garlic, gasoline and rubber, making the presence of the vaporized gas extremely apparent. People can also release mustard gas into water, exposing unsuspecting people using water resources for drinking, cooking, cleaning and agriculture.

Under average weather conditions, mustard gas may last one to two days. Cold weather conditions allow the liquid form to linger for several months. Additionally, when released into the air as a vapor, mustard gas can travel by wind for miles.

Symptoms from Mustard Gas Exposure

Once released, the effects of mustard gas are not immediate and symptom onset may take anywhere from hours to days. Within three to 12 hours of mild to moderate exposure, the victim’s eyes become bloodshot and watery. Severe exposure causes the same symptoms to onset within one to two hours, but may also cause sensitivity to light, and blindness for up to 10 days. Substantial exposure may lead to permanent blindness in the victim.

Additional symptoms include the skin becoming red and irritated, eventually leading to shallow blisters. Acute severity is generally in moist areas, including under the armpits and palms. Making matters worse, blisters commonly become infected after popping. Severe skin burning may prove fatal due to the infection. The mustard liquid is more likely to produce second-and-third degree burns and scarring when compared to exposure through vaporized mustard gas.

Further, the victim will develop a cough 12 to 24 hours after a mild exposure, and within two to four hours of severe exposure. Additionally, the victim may experience a runny nose, shortness of breath, sneezing, hoarseness, sinus pain, and a bloody nose. Exposure to mustard gas may lead to an increased risk of lung and respiratory cancer.

Finally, mustard gas can affect the digestive tract as well. The victim will often experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, fever and vomiting. Mustard gas also decreases the formation of red and white blood cells, leading to weakness, bleeding and an increased risk of fatal infection. Many scientists have studied the effects of mustard gas on victims after the first World War; one of which determines one of the greatest ailments these victims face is the psychosocial disorders developed.

Treatment for Mustard Gas Symptoms

Unfortunately, there is no antidote for mustard gas exposure, only symptom treatments. If exposed to mustard gas, the CDC recommends to immediately depart the area. Mustard gas is heavier than air, causing accumulation in low-lying areas. Therefore, it is imperative to reach higher ground immediately.

Additionally, recommendations state to remove any clothing with liquid mustard gas and transfer to a sealable bag, if possible. One should also promptly and thoroughly wash any body parts that became exposed to sulfur mustard, rinsing eyes every five to 10 minutes. Most importantly, those who experienced mustard gas exposure should immediately receive medical attention. If one receives proper medical treatment, exposure to mustard gas is not fatal.

Prohibited Use of Mustard Gas

The Chemical Weapons Convention treaty started to receive signatures on January 13, 1993; this a United Nations arms control prohibiting the production, acquisition, transfer and stockpiling of chemical weapons. The Convention, comprising 165 signatories, declares that states must destroy any chemical weapons stockpiles, as well as the facilities that produced them. The Convention includes a “challenge inspection” clause, which allows signatories to request a surprise, involuntary inspection on states suspected of noncompliance. Due to the Chemical Weapons Convention, as well as the Geneva Protocol, the use of sulfur mustard in warfare has become uncommon.

Angus Gracey
Photo: Wikimedia

Iraq’s Chemical Pollution in the Wake of ISIS

Three decades of armed conflict in Iraq have decimated the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, while countless more have been wounded and displaced. It has damaged Iraq’s vital infrastructure and industrial areas, polluting the country and wiping agricultural lands off the map. The government’s capacity for industrial and environmental oversight has diminished severely and the occupation by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) heightened long-standing concerns over the country’s environmental safety. Iraq’s chemical pollution in the wake of ISIS puts more agriculture, livestock, water and human health at risk, but U.N. organizations and U.S. programs are helping the country to recover.

The ISIS Occupation Consequences

During their occupation of the country, ISIS captured the Alas and Ajeel oil fields in the Hamrin mountains and seized control of Qayyarah oil field and the Baiji oil refinery. Qayyarah oil field produced 30,000 barrels daily and Baiji produced more than one-third of Iraq’s domestic oil production before this occurrence. According to the ISIS’ scorched earth strategy, they ignited oil wells around the Qayyarah, Alas and Ajeel oil fields, and during their retreat of Baiji, they devastated the facility not only by setting fire to wells but to oil tanks and critical infrastructure. When the Iraqi army recaptured the Qayyarah oil field in September 2016, ISIS had set 20 wells on fire as they retreated.

Satellite imagery captured by UNOSAT, the Operational Satellite Applications Program of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, showed that smoke from the fires deposited soot over the town of Qayyarah and its surrounding area. The fires had released immense quantities of toxic residues, while mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left behind by ISIS complicated efforts by Iraqi firefighters. They managed to extinguish the last fire in March 2017, but by then, all that was left was a blackened and contaminated landscape. When Wim Zwijnenburg, a lead researcher at PAX, a Dutch nonprofit and nongovernmental peace organization, visited the Qayyarah region in 2017, he saw burning oil slicks still flowing from oil wells, lakes filled with solidified crude oil and white sheep black from soot.

Suffering From the Effects of Chemical Warfare

ISIS’ chemical weapons usage was rampant in Iraq and the concealed improvised chemical devices they planted upon their retreats still threaten citizens of Mosul and its surrounding areas. Oil spills from exploded wells, refineries, trucks, tanks and pipelines, as well as mustard gas residue, have infiltrated soil, ground and surface waters. Chemicals found in crude oil, such as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals have subsequently influenced drinking water and agricultural land. When released by fires, these dangerous substances can affect natural resources and civilian health in communities far beyond their burning epicenters.

Additionally, as the oil from the spills dried out, hazardous volatile organic compounds have been released into the air and have caused liver and kidney damage and cancer in humans and animals. Damage to Mosul’s electrical grid has resulted in high levels of Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in the city associated with slower mental development in children and cancer.

Toxic chemicals released by oil fires had impacted the respiratory system of Iraqis and chemical compounds found in these fires can lead to acid rain that destroys soil, all negatively impacting vegetation. Citizens view the agricultural aftermath of Iraq’s chemical pollution as a long-term consequence. It has compromised their livelihoods by killing livestock and destroying cultivated and grazing land, ridding livestock breeders and farmers of their income. ISIS also used university laboratories in Mosul to manufacture chemical bombs. Their lack of safeguards when handling chemical agents and hazardous waste now pose serious contamination risks to the nearby environment.

Medical Treatment and Wash Needs

High levels of radiation and other toxic substances from previous conflicts still flow into the Iraqi environment, but it is Iraq’s chemical pollution in the wake of ISIS that heightens the concerns of Qayyarah’s citizens. Aside from burns, deformations and other disabilities, chemical weapons, burning oil and military remnants can mutate human genes and result in more defects at birth.

In March 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) collaborated with medical authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) to treat patients suffering from toxic exposure. According to a U.N. report, in September 2018, U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, Douglas A. Silliman, declared a health disaster in Basrah after approximately 80,000 people contracted gastrointestinal illness from contaminated water between August and September. In response, USAID allocated $750,000 to address immediate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) need.

Cleaning Up a Toxic Wasteland

In 2018, the Iraqi government and U.N. Environment Programme partnered to build a cross-ministry team to tackle Iraq’s chemical pollution. The joint initiative’s objective is to prevent future exploitation of toxic substances for chemical warfare through government capabilities enhancement and chemicals control improvement. As a selected participant of the U.N. Environment’s Special Programme, Iraq will receive comprehensive information and training to help it meet its chemicals and waste management program obligations.

Iraq’s Ministry of Environment is capable of assessing contaminated sites but lacks the equipment and skills for cleaning and full documentation. The hope is the initiative will provide strategies and enhance on-site assessment methodologies to expedite the cleanup of Iraq’s Chemical Pollution.

– Julianne Russo

Photo: Pixabay

Chemical Attacks
Throughout history, especially in modern warfare, one of the most common ways to kill a mass group of people is through chemical attacks. A chemical attack is any toxic chemical used in the form of a weapon, typically contained in a delivery system- bomb or shell.

Chemical Attacks in World War I

In 1915, three chemical attacks responsible for injuries and deaths during World War I were: chlorine gas, mustard gas and phosgene. They are described as follows:

  • Chlorine gas produces a greenish-yellow cloud containing the smell of bleach and immediately affects the eyes, nose, lungs and throat.
  • Mustard gas, known as the “King of the Battle Gases” holds a potent smell described as garlic, gasoline, rubber or dead horses. Although mustard gas does not have an instant effect, hours after being exposed, the victims’ eyes turn bloodshot red, start watering and become extremely painful. Some victims face temporary blindness and even skin blistering.
  • Phosgene is an irritant that is six times deadlier than chlorine gas. This gas is colorless and smells like moldy hay but doesn’t affect the body until a day or two after an attack. The effect of this chemical attack is a slow suffocating death.

On average, chemical weapon agents (CWA) are the outcome of industrial accidents, military stockpiling, wars and terrorist attacks. These hazardous substances come in a variety, such as nerve agents, vesicating or blistering agents, choking agents or lung toxicants, cyanides, incapacitating agents, lacrimation or riot control agents and vomiting agents.

The last mass usage of chemicals in military operation recorded was when Syrian military used sarin gas against civilians during the Syrian Civil War in 2013, killing hundreds.

Effects of Chemical Attacks

The effects of chemical attacks range from physical to clinical and can have short-term or long-term consequences. Victims can be exposed through the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. The liquid and high vapor concentrations affect the skin, causing rashes, burning and blistering. Liquid and vapor gases affect the eyes, which can lead to severe burning, irritation and blindness. Lastly, vapor inhalation affects the respiratory tract, resulting in choking to death.

All agents have a more intense effect when used in an enclosed area. “All I know is I had to get my helmet on the first time because it felt like death the minute I walked in there,” Kori Holmes told the Borgen Project in an interview while describing his training experience in military boot camp for the army.

In preparation for the army, soldiers have to be able to walk in the room clouded with gas and put our gas masks on without any assistance. Kori stated that the gas was so strong, his eyes started burning instantly and his throat felt like he had strep. He managed to finally get his gas mask on and escape.

Clinical effects of chemical attacks are contingent upon the amount of exposure, which also means the effects can be sudden or delayed. For example, inhalation of nerve agents (mustard gas) can kill victims immediately. The smallest amount of exposure on the skin to a nerve agent can be deadly, with delayed effects.

Treatment of Chemical Attacks Victims

In an attempt to medically manage the effects of chemical attacks, emergency workers wear protective equipment in order to decontaminate victims and provide antidotes. The first responders to chemical attacks are at risk of being chemically contaminated when coming in direct contact with vapor or handling the skin and clothing of victims.

Even with treatment, long-term effects of chemical attacks are primarily mental, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. Physically, permanent brain damage and other disorders of the nervous system can happen.

The effects of chemical attacks can be deadly and are certainly and represent a step back in building a modern society. As of today, the possession and use of chemical weapons are prohibited under international law, yet there are still nations that continue to have active chemical weapon programs.

The United States has five incinerators in operation, with hopes of keeping citizens safe along with maintaining public health and the environment as the top priority.

– Kayla Sellers
Photo: Flickr

mustard gas
Dichlorodiethylsulfide, for which the chemical formula is C4H8Cl2S, is a chemical warfare agent known commonly as sulfur mustard or mustard gas. The first notes on its toxic properties occurred in the late 1880s by dye chemists. Its first use as an agent of chemical war was during World War I where exposed troops described its odor as a stench like mustard or garlic, leading to its common name.

What Does Mustard Gas Do?

Dubbed the “King of the Battle Gases,” the effects of mustard gas are not immediate, even though it is a potent blistering agent. Hours after exposure to the chemical, a victim’s eyes become bloodshot and begin to water. As the pain increases, some will suffer temporary blindness. A young Adolf Hilter, an enlisted messenger during World War I, was temporarily blinded by mustard gas during a gas attack and spent the rest of the war in a military hospital recuperating.

Along with the damage to a victim’s vision, the effects of mustard gas include blistering to the skin, particularly in moist areas such as the underarms and genitals. These blisters eventually begin to burst and often become infected.

When Was Mustard Gas Used?

Though first used during World War I, mustard gas was used throughout World War II as well. The development of chemical weapons has been an imperative for all military-obsessed governments ever since.

During the 1980s throughout the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq used chemical weapons, including mustard gas, against Iran as well as their own Kurdish minority. In fact, about 5,000 Iranian soldiers were killed, 10-20 percent by mustard agent. There were an additional 40,000-50,000 injured in a medical system overloaded by numerous victims in need of long and demanding care.

Mustard Gas’ Widespread Fog

In 2012, an official from the United States State Department confirmed that Syria had a stockpile of chemical weapons that included mustard gas. In 2013, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad’s government relinquished its arsenal of chemical weapons after threats of United States airstrikes; nonetheless, as recently as April of 2018 the OPCW Fact-Finding missions have reported “the very likely use” of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against its own civilians.

Over the last twenty years, more than 60 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapon stockpiles were successfully eliminated in five of the seven declared chemical-weapons-possessing states. Despite these admirable efforts, almost 30,000 metric tons of chemical weapons still await destruction.

Stockpiles of Chemical Horror

In many conversations, nuclear and biological weapons overshadow the concern of chemical weapons; however, chemical weapons remain the most numerous, with some five million munitions awaiting destruction and two to four million additional suspected stockpiles undeclared by OPCW undeclared states.

Chemical weapons pose great risks to all people, especially those living in conflict-torn and terrorist heavy regions.

The Quest for Global Disarmament

Al Qaeda, Iraqi and Afghan insurgents continue efforts to steal or produce deadly chemical agents for indiscriminate terrorist attacks. It is everyone’s responsibility to work to destroy the world’s remaining chemical weapon stockpiles by supporting representatives who make the global disarmament of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons a priority.

A world free of all weapons of mass destruction will be a world safer and more secure for all who inhabit Earth.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr

Mustard Gas Effects
Roughly one hundred years ago, one of the deadliest chemicals ever concocted was introduced to the global stage. This chemical creation was mustard gas. Known officially as sulfur mustard, mustard gas was created at the latter end of World War I. Often referred to as the chemists’ war, World War I proved to be a breeding ground for chemical weapons. 

World War I

In July 1917, British soldiers garrisoned in Ypres, Belgium reported a glimmering cloud of vapor in the air. Not too soon after, cases of blisters and sores were reported. British personnel was also reportedly coughing up blood, and according to Cancer Research UK, approximately 10,000 casualties were reported in Ypres alone.

Although British soldiers were issued gas masks per military regulation, mustard gas proved to be deadly regardless of whether an individual was wearing a gas mask or not. Mustard gas can be effective in virtually all conditions. Individuals can be exposed to the chemical through skin and eye contact; additionally, mustard gas is equally deadly if breathed through the air. 

Forms of Mustard Gas

As a chemical, mustard gas can appear in multiple forms. Mustard gas was mainly used as a vapor during World War I; however, it can also appear in the liquid form. For example, mustard gas can be mixed with water which can lead to poisoning of water supplies.

Sulfur gas has been described as having a peppery or mustard-like smell, but mustard gas can also be odorless in nature making exposure difficult to document. 

In general, exposure to sulfur mustard is not fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mustard gas accounted for roughly 5 percent of deaths during the Great War. Symptoms of exposure to the chemical vary widely.

The largest factor in the severity of symptoms is the total exposure to the gas itself. Individual symptoms of a mustard gas depend on a person’s susceptibility. Symptoms may not occur until 24 hours have passed. 

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

The severity of the effects differs greatly between the short- and long-term. Redness and itching of the skin may occur in regard to short-term mustard gas effects. Eye irritation in the form of swelling and tearing are common. Within 12 to 24 hours the respiratory tract may be damaged, leading to a runny nose, shortness of breath, and coughing. Mustard gas impacts the digestive tract in the form of abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. 

Long-term mustard gas effects can include much graver consequences. If sulfur gas is not removed from the skin relatively quickly, second and third-degree burns may appear. Breathing-based exposure may lead to chronic respiratory disease or in some cases death. If not treated, sulfur gas has been documented to cause blindness. A person’s risk for lung and respiratory cancer also largely increases as a result. 

Geneva Gas Protocol

Sulfur gas was officially banned in 1925 at the signing of the Geneva Gas Protocol. After the trauma and horror of the First World War, the global community largely agreed that chemical weapons must be prohibited from use in all cases. 

Upon studying mustard gas effects, it becomes apparent that the Geneva Gas Protocol was essential in protecting human rights across the globe. With chemical weapons banned, the chances of continued use of the substances/liquids/gas has become much rarer. However, chemical weapons are still being used in war-torn areas across the globe today. It is the responsibility of the international community to ensure that all countries adhere to global treaties. 

– Colby McCoy
Photo: Flickr

acid attacks
Around the world, acid attacks affect the futures of around 1,500 people every year. The majority of these crimes take place in India, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Uganda.

The attacks are mostly used as punishments or revenge for slights against the perpetrator. Some women are attacked because of their beauty, particularly if their beauty draws unwanted glances. One-third of women do not even know why their attacks occur.

Children are often second-hand victims to attacks on their mothers. One woman was attacked while breastfeeding her infant and both suffered severe burns.

Men are also victims. In Uganda, 45 percent of the attacks are against men.

Administrations typically downplay these attacks. Many countries have passed new laws to increase punishments, but these are not always enforced. In Cambodia, acid attacks are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

There are also laws regulating the sale of acid, which is currently available in many places for a few cents per bottle. After the regulation was passed, there were fewer attacks, but it is hard to completely regulate the intent for the purchases.

Most perpetrators are never prosecuted for their crimes.

Their victims suffer from gruesome deformities. Acid destroys skin, clothing, and hair, and in high concentrations, it can melt bone. In some cases, victims are tricked into drinking acid and suffer from internal damage. Victims must deal with perpetual health issues, even after the attacks.

Recovery is elaborate and expensive. The multitude of surgeries is often unaffordable for victims.

The physical and mental suffering attached to these crimes prevents many victims from living their lives. Many end up blaming themselves. One mother lamented how her appearance scared her own children.

Even if they are willing to go back into society, victims are often ostracized. One mother said that her in-laws show pictures of her to her children and tell them she has turned into a monster. Her husband was her attacker.

The combined lack of self-worth and societal support makes it difficult for these victims to find employment after their attacks. Many attacks are perpetrated by men against their wives, and when they cast them out, these women often have no source of income.

Most places will not hire victims with their deformities and it is often foreign charities that provide any work at all. Many women attempt to cover their scars with burkas, but this often does not hide the crime.

Some victims do work to rise from their past. This is often done with encouragement from supportive family or friends. One woman is pursuing a degree in finance after her husband attacked her.

Recently, a group of female victims were given the opportunity to act as models for Rupa Designs. They were wearing designer clothes, and it provided a way for them to still feel wanted by society. The goal of the photo shoot was to motivate women to move past their attacks and recognize that they can still realize their dreams. The shoot was organized by Stop Acid Attacks, an organization that works with survivors.

Other organizations, like the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity and the Acid Survivors Foundation also offer services for victims. Some groups offer free surgical care, physiotherapy, counseling and financial support to survivors. They also educate communities about the realities of acid attacks and the needs of victims afterwards.

 The lives of both men and women are affected by these attacks, and it causes irreparable damage to their lives.  Countries and organizations are working to end the violence, but there is still work to be done.

Monica Roth

Sources: New York Daily News, Post Magazine, Daily Mail, DW, Huffington Post
Photo: flickr

Human Rights Watch is currently investigating whether the Syrian government used chlorine bombs in recent attacks. Last September, Syria complied to dispose of its chemical weapons, around 1,300 metric tons, after external threats from the United States and Russia. Yet, many believe that chlorine was used in recent attacks in the country through barrel bombs.

The barrels, which are stuffed with nails and explosive material, are pushed out of airplanes into areas of rebel, and civilian, congregation — including schools, hospitals and civilian facilities. While the Syrian government has blamed the attacks on terrorist groups, Nadim Houry, the Deputy Director for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch, thinks otherwise.

Since the Syrian government has sole control over the air, Houry believes these attacks are meant to push residents away from these rebel areas. Causing panic amongst the civilian population, it causes them to flee and, subsequently, allows the government to advance more quickly.

While chlorine is not lethal, it can cause serious health problems for those affected. The Chemical Weapons Convention chalks chlorine’s exclusion from the list of prohibited toxic chemicals to its widespread commercial use, which is most commonly used for water purification and bleaching purposes. Yet this notion has been met with criticism; Charles Duelfer, who was head of Saddam Hussein’s investigation under weapons of mass destruction, claims that the magnitude of chlorine bombs equivocates the problem to other chemical munitions which are currently being destroyed.

Syria, which will be holding an election this upcoming Tuesday, has been in civil uproar since 2011, leaving many in rebel areas hopeless. Now, with voting only allowed in regime-controlled areas and set to virtually assure victory for the incumbent Bashar al-Assad, those in impoverished areas of the country are having trouble remaining hopeful.

Ahmed, a young rebel fighter from a now-besieged Deir Ezzor, is just one of many clinging to survival.

“Deir Ezzor is surrounded by the regime and [ISIS] has cut off the only way out,” Ezzor said.  “We will all be killed.”

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: CSMonitor, NPR, VOANews
Photo: Vice News

It is still unclear what exactly happened on Friday, April 11,  in the rebel-held village of Kfar Zeita, 125 miles north of Damascus. A number of reports and video clips reveal that the rural village fell victim to a poisonous gas attack which injured a number of people.

This chemical attack occurs in the midst of an ongoing international effort to rid Syria of all of its chemical weapons.

It is yet unknown who attacked the village or how many citizens were injured but a number of reports have come out making claims.

The Syrian National Coalition said that the poisonous gas attack injured dozens of people but did not identify the gas used. They also urged the UN to conduct a “quick investigation into the developments related to the use of poisonous gas against civilians in Syria.”

The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights claims that the attack occurred during air raids and reported many people suffering from suffocation and breathing problems.

A Syrian television network blamed the attack on members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front rebel group, saying that chlorine gas was used to kill two citizens and injure more than one hundred.

All of these reports remain unsubstantiated but a number of online videos have also appeared, documenting the aftermath of the attack. One video posted by rebel activists show pale-faced men, women and children gasping for air at a field hospital in Kfar Zeita. Another video showed a hospital room in Kfar Zeita that was packed with women and children crying, some of them wearing oxygen masks.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power notes, “We are trying to run this down. So far it’s unsubstantiated, but we’ve shown, I think, in the past that we will do everything in our power to establish what has happened and then consider possible steps in response.”

The gas attack comes at a time when the international community is attempting to eliminate chemical weapons from Syria once and for all. All chemical weapons are supposed to be removed by June 30th, however the Syrian government continues to miss key deadlines.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: The Guardian
Photo: Reuters

A UN spokesperson has confirmed that Iran was not invited to the first round of the Syrian peace talks due to take place in Switzerland.  As it stands, invitations to participate in peace talks are usually extended by the initiating countries. In this case, Russia and the United States have remained at odds about Iran’s role in the talks.

Syria has been facing an increasingly bleak humanitarian crisis as the civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces. Since the violent outbreak in 2011, more than 100,000 Syrian civilians have been killed while millions more have sought refuge in neighboring countries to escape the escalating violence and increasing poverty. With no end of the civil war in sight, neighboring countries have expressed their concerns about taking refugees without more aid from other countries or action taken to end the violence.

The ultimate goal the United States hopes to reach in the peace talks involves transitioning president Bashar al-Assad out of power. The plan doesn’t say that al-Assad must leave, something which must come as a relief since al-Assad stated that while he will send a representative to the talks, he will not voluntarily leave office.

As it is, though the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is actually in favor of inviting Iran to the first round, the United States chose to offer Iran a role in the less official ‘second round’ talks. Iran immediately rejected this offer saying that, “suggesting such an arrangement would not respect the country’s honor,” which makes sense since Iran is Syria’s neighbor and ally. However, according to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Iran opposes the proposed plan of a transitional Syrian government.

All in all, UN officials are hopeful that issues involving Iran’s participation can be resolved in a preliminary meeting between the initiating countries. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled to meet on January 13.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Al Jazeera, Washington Post
Photo: Noisy Room

Few will fail to condemn Syria’s Bashar Assad for his use of chemical weapons this past August that reportedly killed reported 1,400 people, including civilians. However, the international community responded sternly, spearheaded by the United States.

Obama called the act an atrocity and, with the support of Russia, who had usually blocked or opposed any international action against the Assad regime, lead the United Nations to intervene. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW,) the body created to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention in the 1990’s, has overseen the disarmament of Syria’s stockpiles and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year for the work they have done around the world in chemical weapon disarmament.

Syria is now behind on the timetable that calls for the destruction of all their stores, over 1,200 metric tons, by mid-2014. Logistics are a major obstacle in this feat, as chemical weapons are stored by the government all over the country, with the potential for these sites to be amid conflict and the serious danger in handling them. Still, international resources for this endeavor are in no short supply and, perhaps most importantly, with administration of the operation handled by the OPCW, the will to carry out the plan is strong.

So the stage is set for a humanitarian victory with the U.S. and Russia as an odd couple of heroes, given the respective efforts of the two countries politically and in the physical disposal of the dangerous weapons despite some of the disparate geopolitical leanings of the two superpowers.

The parade, though, will likely be delayed as Syria, as of January 7, has only just removed a very small amount of some of their least dangerous chemicals. They may very well need an extension of their deadline, but this should be a familiar storyline to the two nations that have delayed the destruction of their chemical weapons continuously since signing the Chemical Weapons Convention accord.

In fact, this country’s refusal to relinquish the right to retaliation in the early 1990’s, wanting to retain a defensive store of the most deadly chemical weapons, delayed the drafting of the accord. Russia still has 30 percent of its self-reported stores and the U.S. has 10 percent left, according to OPCW’s 2011 report. While that might not seem like much, the two countries combine for some 20,000 metric tons or nearly 20 times Syria’s entire stockpile.

In 2011 alone, the U.S. destroyed 1,996 metric tons of Class 1 chemical weapons, the most dangerous variety, including Sarin gas. It won’t be until 2023 that the U.S. Government predicts they will finally have destroyed all of its stores, over 5,000 metric tons. Russia is expected to request an additional extension until 2020 for the destruction of their more voluminous horde.

That the two countries that control the largest share of some of the world’s most terrifying weapons are so active in the disarmament of another is certainly still commendable, although setting an example by expediently disarming themselves and reducing the availability of chemical weapons might do more for the world.

– Tyson Watkins

Sources: OPCW, CNN, RIANOVOSTI, New York Times, USA Today
Photo: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty