The Future of Chemical Weapons: Implications of the Lack of Military Utility in the Syrian Civil War

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Abstract

With chemical weapons (CW) use in Syria raising questions about the health of the CW norm, this article analyses whether the Syrian case will lead to further proliferation and use of chemical weapons by states. We argue that that significant proliferation and use is unlikely and that the norm therefore remains robust. We focus on the use of chemical weapons at Ghouta in 2013 and on the Hama Plains in 2014, and reach three conclusions. First, chemical weapons have demonstrated little military utility in Syria, either tactically or as a tool of civilian victimization. Second, the costs of use have been repeatedly demonstrated by
the international reaction to their use. And third, the use of sarin, a nerve agent, has attracted a stronger international response than the use of the less lethal chlorine. We conclude that the Syrian case is unlikely to lead to significant proliferation and use of chemical weapons; any that does occur is most likely to involve states already outside the CW norm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)704-733
JournalSECURITY STUDIES
Volume27
Issue number4
Early online date13 Aug 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2018

Keywords

  • chemical weapons
  • Syria
  • norms
  • military utility
  • taboo

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