Date: Wednesday, 10/11/2017, 3-4:30 PM,
Location: Hilton Head Regional Library.
Topic: Chemical Warfare: Ethical Issues and Concerns
Presenter: Col. John Gilbert, USAF, Ret.
Moderater: Neil Funnell
Chemical Weapons or CW‘s are of several types and identities being best known as mustard and nerve agents. Sulfur mustard, HD, causes large blisters on contact and can fatally affect respiration. Sulfur mustard is not a gas, but a liquid at room temperature and freezes at 57°F. Nerve agents act by causing paralysis, with two nerve agents being well known: Sarin: GB and VX.
Sarin is very volatile, being liquid at room temperature and evaporates quickly. It was used in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack. VX is a thick liquid like motor Oil and evaporates slowly. Other chemicals can also be CW‘s, depending on how they are used. Chlorine is used in barrel bombs for example. Chemical weapons are subject to two arms control agreements:
The 1925 Geneva protocol which prohibits the use of CW‘s but not possession of such and has no verification procedures.
The 1997 Chemical weapons convention (CWC) with 192 countries being involved. This agreement:
Syria has had a CW program for a long time but did not agree to The CW treaty until September 2013. They may have received their first CW’s from Egypt around the time of Yom Kippur war in 1973. They developed their own program in the 1980s and 1990s being assisted by the Soviet union. A principal actor in setting up a serious CW program was Kuntsevitch, (A former head of the Soviet CW program. He was eventually relieved of his title by Yeltsin in 1994 for smuggling Russian CW’s to Syria and he later died in 2002 on a flight from Damascus to Moscow). They probably also received help from Iran. Their stock pile amounted to 1000+ tons and a larger number of munitions by August 2013.
In the early morning hours on 8/21/2013, a large CW attack was launched against neighborhoods in the opposition held suburb of Damascus. The number killed may have been as high as1500. The attacks used two types of rockets, filled with Sarin, GB nerve agent, (unique Iranian design 330 mm Rockets and Russian manufactured 120 or 140 mm Rockets). The attack timing was optimized to take advantage of weather conditions, and maximize casualties. Numerous debris pieces were recovered.
The OPCW investigative team travelled to the attack area and gathered considerable evidence. No military action was taken and the US and Russia negotiated a deal to address Syrian CW‘s. Syria would ratify and agree to all provisions. Syria would issue complete data declaration and turn over all CW material and destroy its CW production facilities. OPCW inspectors would monitor progress and confirm completion. All CW agents, munitions and precursor chemicals would be destroyed by the US and allies. OPCW inspectors would confirm. CW agents were shipped to a Syrian port, and to a US ship and destroyed by US personnel. This started in late 2013 and was completed in the summer of 2014. Precursors were destroyed by 2015.
Since 8/2013 and prior to 4/2017, there have been numerous instances of chlorine filled barrel bombs dropped on opposition neighborhoods. Many casualties resulted with the Syrian regime denying responsibility. Reports confirmed usage of chlorine as a weapon. Additional reports allege mustard use. UN action was considered but has not occurred.
Early in one morning of 4/2017, Syrian aircraft attacked an opposition held town with at least one Sarin-filled air launched rocket. Almost 100 were killed with dozens being injured and the Syrian regime denying responsibility. The night of 4/6/17, the US launched a punitive strike against the airfield from which the attack was launched with many cruise missiles doing extensive damage to buildings and equipment. Post strike photos posted by Russian social media showed damaged Russian munitions, and investigations confirmed the use of Sarin. Multiple data sources implicated Syrian aircraft in the attack. Opposition flight observation and warning networks were broadcast. Debris was collected at the scene with various statements made by fake news including “there were child actors” or “Isis did it” or”Turkey did it.”
March 25/2017, a hospital was attacked, using several weapons including Chlorine containing barrel bombs, with one fatality, a doctor. On 3/30/17, a local town was attacked with Sarin-filled weapons resulting in 70 injuries with none being fatal, thanks to rapid treatment. Sarin was used and confirmed by the OPCW. Another local town was attacked four days later.
Kim Jong Nam’s assassination on 3/23/17, with death due to the use of a nerve agent, VX as a binary formulation. Two women were observed applying the chemicals to his face and were arrested afterwards. The biologic investigation showed VX. Both women have pleaded not guilty.
Some ethical considerations:
Our sincere thanks to retired US Air Force Colonel John Gilbert for his educational, comprehensive, well condensed and clearly exhibited presentation of a very complex topic. Thanks also to Neil Funnell for moderating.