Assad Is Not All That’s Toxic About Syria

“As possible military action against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program looms large in the public arena, far more international concern should be directed toward Syria and its weapons of mass destruction,” writes the American Federation of Scientists’ Charles P. Blair at Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “Syria likely has one of the largest and most sophisticated chemical weapon programs in the world.”

Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is thought to be massive. One of only eight nations that is not a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention — an arms control agreement that outlaws the production, possession, and use of chemical weapons — Syria has a chemical arsenal that includes several hundred tons of blistering agents along with likely large stockpiles of deadly nerve agents, including VX, the most toxic of all chemical weapons.

The arsenal includes 100 to 200 Scud missiles equipped, poison arrow-like, with warheads brimming with the nerve agent Sarin.

Here it is — served up on a platter. Finally, an airtight rationale for military intervention against the Bashar al-Assad regime by NATO and the United States. Right?

Uh, not so fast. Let’s review: VX and Sarin are weapons of mass destruction. What do they share with their big brother, nuclear weapons? By all rights, they should deter a wholesale assault. Conventional wisdom holds that Assad likely wouldn’t use his WMD, as Saddam Hussein refrained from doing against the United States. But, backed into a corner, he might lash out at neighboring Israel, if only because it represents NATO and the United States. Nor, like his father, has he shown any compunctions about slaughtering Syrians.

The key question is: when a regime acquires WMD does it do so for the protection of the state … or the regime? Once again, commonplace, un-sexy diplomacy is recommended as not only the weapon of first resort but last resort.