Coffee House

What can the international community do to stop Assad using chemical weapons?

6 December 2012

Bashar al-Assad is busy writing his suicide note, ordering military officials to prepare the country’s chemical weapons for use. That’s the assessment of Pentagon officials overnight who have detected a flurry of activity at two facilities where these weapons are known to be stored – in al-Safir, on the outskirts of Aleppo; and Furqlus, about 30 miles from the already destroyed city of Homs.

The precursor chemicals for Sarin nerve gas, an extremely lethal toxin, have now been loaded into bombs that can be delivered by Syrian aircraft. Sarin was deployed most notoriously by Saddam Hussein who used it to crush a Kurdish uprising in 1988 during the Halabja massacre. More than 5,000 people were killed by a single missile.


All this gives some indication of the increasing desperation being felt by Bashar al-Assad as the rebels continue to make significant strides towards the capital. Even there his authority is severely limited with rebels laying siege to the city from four different fronts, with much of eastern Damascus having already fallen from his control.

The international community has approved the deployment of Patriot missiles along the Turkish border in response. Germany is also sending 400 troops to Turkey although they insist all these measures are purely defensive, designed to ensure the conflict remains within Syria itself.

In private, officials from the Foreign Office and State Department are known to have sent messages to the Syrian government warning of dire consequences if Assad deploys his chemical payload. Hillary Clinton is also trying to achieve Russian consensus on this. Later today she will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a meeting hosted by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy to Syria. The hope is that both Moscow and Beijing will counsel Assad against the use of chemical weapons.

Despite the bluster there is still little appetite for intervention in Syria. This is likely to remain the case even if Assad deploys Sarin nerve gas. What might follow, however, is a serious of punitive missile strikes aimed at destroying what remains of his arsenal. That response, belated and of limited utility, underscores the grim reality that there is little the international community can do in real terms to prevent Assad using chemical weapons should he choose to do so.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • anyfool

    More than 5,000 people were killed by a single missile,

    That is absolute rubbish, hundreds of artillery shells, dozens of bomb sorties, the head count was exaggerated like in any war, if that fool Saddam could achieve 5000 for one missile there would have been no Gulf war and one man running the whole of the Middle East, probably a better outcome than what the pitiful duo Hillary and Hague will achieve unless it is a possible war between Turkey and the Arab World, that will pull us out of the current slump, untold billions of weapon sales and rebuilding, just the job.

  • Curnonsky

    The ugly fact remains that the whole Arab Spring has spiraled completely out of the control of the “international community”, whatever the hell that is, and they are flapping about in impotent confusion. 400 German troops, indeed! With orders to surrender on sight, no doubt.

  • Trev

    What can the international community do to stop Assad using chemical weapons?

    Stop interfering and let him deal with the terrorists in a way we could only wish to.

  • Jez

    Egypt and Libya and Tunisia look so great now we’ve stuck our noses in.
    (I think a sizeable amount of tanks have just been deployed to the Presidential Palace tonight- again)

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Hillary and Hague and the do-gooders went all-in over Libya, and the
    price for Turkish coalescence on Libya was that they’d be given a free
    hand in Syria, so the do-gooders consented. Remember, the Turks were
    initially cross over the Libyan business. The do-gooders should have stayed out of Libya. Oh what a tangled web we weave…

    Assad is just forming his golden parachute. If he uses the poison gas, he’s a goner, and he likely knows that. He’s just reminding the do-gooders that he needs his golden parachute, as do his buddies who deal with the poison gas.

    • Maidmarrion

      Nothing “do gooding” about Hillary and Hague absolutely nothing.
      “we came ,we saw ,he’s dead ,ho ,ho, ho,” – no counting of the innocents of Libya killed in the attemot to get one man who could have brought down the mighty dollar by insisting on being paid in gold for oil and not that trashy worthless paper stuff!

  • anyfool

    There is no sensible reason why the West should be supporting these Saudi Arabian proxies in their attempts to create an empire or caliphate or whatever they want to call it.

    The spreading of democracy in these countries is a cover as the Saudi bankrolling of the rebels testifies, the idealogical war between Iran and the Saudis is something that the west should stay out of or at least ensure it keeps going as when they are fighting each other they are constrained from spreading the islamist poison that is spreading like a particular virulent form of cancer throughout the world.

    This move by the West to support this sort of incursion has moved forward since Obama became President, i would doubt the motives of this man as he is as slippery as Blair and about as deceitful but that does not account for Camerons folly unless he is another starry eyed idiot who thinks this man is the second coming of Christ or Mohammed whichever way he leans.

    The press and the opposition in this country appear to support this line but as they all suffer from a limited moral compass this should be no surprise, but what is a surprise is that despite wanting equal rights for gays and women in this country he thinks it is ok to condemn them to servitude in the case of women and death for the homosexuals.

    He will wait a long time for an invitation to a same sex marraige in these hell holes they are creating.

    • Augustus

      “that does not account for Cameron’s folly unless he is another starry eyed idiot who thinks this man is the second coming of Christ or Mohammad whichever way he leans.”

      The Messiah will be reborn in Hawai. As for Obama’s motive, one can only assume that he loves handing the keys over to the Muslim Brotherhood all over the Middle East; like he did in Libya, and Egypt, and coming soon in Syria, Tunisia, Bahrain, Jordan and even in Kuwait. Rather than opposing these Islamic supremacists, who
      regard ‘democracy’ as a deceitful route to power, Obama is the wind in their backs.

  • Augustus

    One is beginning to wonder exactly who are the irresponsible ones here, because these chemical weapons are far more likely to cause mayhem once they fall into the hands of
    the likes of al-Qaida or other terrorist groups. So your question should really be: What can the international community do to stop chemical weapons falling into the hands of anti-Assad insurgents? With perhaps a reminder that if Assad did issue an order for the bombs to be used there is little the
    outside world can do to stop it.

  • David Lindsay

    Weapons of mass destruction?


    You are going to have an awful lot better than this.

    • Swiss Bob

      They’re the ones whisked out of Iraq, apparently.

      • David Lindsay

        Course they are.

    • swatantra

      No evidence that Assad will use Bio WMD against his own people. I have as much faith in the Pentagon’s in depth analysis as I have in the rebels wanting democracy, or the Israelis suing for peace. Its a no no.

  • Wilhelm

    Mind our own business.

    The Arab spring has turned into an Arab winter, as everyone knew, except the media. What the West is doing, enabling muslim fanatics to get a foothold in government and start persecuting coptic Christians, like in Egypt.

    • Andy

      Coptic Christians have been persecuted in Egypt ever since the fall of King Farouk. Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak allowed this to appease the Muslim Brotherhood.

      • David Lindsay

        The are the biggest Egyptian nationalists of the lot. To the late Pope Shenouda III, Egypt
        was “not a country we live in, but a country that lives within us”.
        Following his recent funeral on a national day of mourning and with the
        rulers of the nation in attendance, the Air Force flew his body
        for burial at the monastery to which he had once been banished by Sadat
        for his opposition to the Camp David Accords.

        His excommunication remains in force of any Copt not from the Holy Land (where there are a few) who sets foot there while the Zionist State remains in existence.

        Yet the Copts seem to have decided that they are not going to be at the table, thereby ensuring that they are on the menu.

        One quarter of the Egyptian Parliament should be elected on a constituency basis, one quarter elected on a proportional basis, forty-five per cent (an equal number of men and women) nominated by the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and five per cent (an equal number of men and women) nominated by the Coptic Patriarch.

        No legislation could be introduced unless sponsored by at least one MP from
        each of those four categories, nor could it be enacted without the approval of all four of the General Guide, the Patriarch, and the first and second-placed candidates in a direct Presidential election, termed the President and the Vice-President but enjoying exactly equal powers. Why not?

        On social justice issues, the Muslim Brotherhood is not what it was, having changed direction to recant the public ownership and the wealth redistribution for which it used to campaign, and to support Mubarak’s land reform reversals. But it could easily be talked into changing back, especially since it is by no means clear how convinced the party at large has ever been about these revisions at the top. Remind you of anyone?

        If Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, and the Lebanese coalition including Hezbollah are anything to go by, then the Copts are very well-placed to strike an excellent bargain, in stark contrast to our beloved Israel, Turkey and Mubarak. If the Copts are going to be annoyed over anything, then it is going to be over the
        retention of the peace treaty with Israel, which they have always strongly opposed.

        And the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by British intelligence in order to agitate
        against independence, has always enjoyed excellent Foreign Office connections; its Anglophilia is exactly what it is so hated by its Israel First, American Second, Britain Nowhere detractors in the Murdoch papers, on Telegraph Blogs, and so on. Commonwealth membership beckons, especially for a country which even still has a currency called the pound.

        This is Britain’s moment. Otherwise, such are the historic ties and the widespread proficiency in English, that we should expect each of our cities to contain several, and each of our large towns to contain one, of those Coptic churches. One tenth of the Egyptian population would have decamped to the most obvious alternative country from their point of view.

        As with the Arabs inside Israel’s 1948 borders, why did we never do for them what we later did for the East African Asians, but a generation earlier, when we were still just about in a position to back it up?

  • edlancey

    Well the obvious answer is that we should stop funding and arming the Jihadis attacking him

    • Fasdunkle


      • telemachus

        Who does that
        Assad is a Russian Joke
        “But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared unfazed by the coalescing opposition to his regime.

        He told Russia Today that were the West to invade it would be “more than the whole world can afford.”

        He said: “I am not a puppet. I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country. I am Syrian, I was made in Syria, I have to live in Syria and die in Syria.” “

  • TomTom

    We ALL believe the Pentagon. I know that Colin Powell had beautiful pictures of Renault trucks; we know that Rumsfeld created his own Defence Intelligence Agency independent of the CIA and made his own conclusions. I do reflect on why Keitel was hanged at Nuremberg however and wonder when he will receive a posthumous pardon. I wonder too how the Serb Ambassador to NATO fell to his death yesterday. What will it take for “the international community” to restrain the United States, UK and France from this Rolling Offensive picking fights wherevever their subjugated populations fail to block them ? It is getting rather like 1930s with Japan off in Manchuria, Italy in Abyssinia, and Germany in Spain.

    • HooksLaw

      I guess we will have to wait until the babies are gassed. Assad is the one picking a fight – with his own people.

      The Serbian did not fall he jumped – as many witnesses will testify. Not an American in sight.

      • TomTom

        You are fully tuned in as one would expect. Useful Idiots was Lenin’s term and you wear the badge

  • Vulture

    Am I alone in thinking that so long as these savages are occupied in killing each other there is less chance of them turning their attention to us?
    Britain has no interests in Syria, vital or otherwise, and why Hague and Hillary are determined to hoist Al Quaeda into power in place of butcher Baathist Assad is a bit of a mystery.

    • Fasdunkle

      If the Jihadists win in Syria they will soon turn theie attention elsewhere but have the Syrian military equipment at their disposal. Look at Libya – they soon used all that kit to impose the horror of shariah on Mali

      • David Lindsay

        Again, not our problem.

        In any case, what chemical weapons in Syria?

        • Hexhamgeezer

          In a strictly legal sense CWs are not just weaponised materiel.

          The OPCW. believe they have stocks – and they absolutely have the capacity and facilities to produce the simple (‘mustard’ and variants) and the more complex nerves ( ‘VX’ and variants). The collapse of the Soviet Union encouraged various experts to ply their trade elsewhere and it may well be that Syria offered exciting career packages to some of them.


    • Austin Barry

      Muslims keep telling us that they love death as we love life. So be it.

      Strangely, this is one of those occasions where my enemy’s enemy is also my enemy.

      • David Lindsay

        In what sense is Assad our enemy?

        • Austin Barry

          Assad’s elongated neck challenges our natural aesthetic sense.

          Syria, no; symmetry, yes.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Yes, that neck is an affront to the giraffe community, maybe even a hate crime or some such.

            I like the “enemy’s enemy is also the enemy” part, too.

            • Hexhamgeezer

              My enemy’s enemiy is a political enema.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here