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The Risk of Syria's Chemical Weapons

Unconventional weapons must be a top international priority, writes Mark Fitzpatrick. The risk of Syria’s chemical weapons being used is very real, and the prospect of them falling into the wrong hands is even more so, given the degree to which the stockpiles are dispersed and the number of fighters in Syria with links to al-Qaeda and other radical groups.
Syria's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jihad Makdissi speaks during a news conference in Damascus July 23, 2012. Syria will only use its chemical weapons if it faces "external aggression", but will never use them against its civilians, the country's foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday. REUTERS/Stringer (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

The dangers associated with Syria’s chemical weapons (CW) are a dire example of why non-proliferation of unconventional weapons must be a top international priority. Up until a few short months ago, Syria’s chemical weapons were typically seen as for deterrence purposes only. Offensive use of the weapons was deemed suicidal and hence unlikely.

There is now a real alarm that Syria’s chemical weapons might be used, and not just in response to nuclear threats or foreign invasion. The worry, rather, is that the Assad regime might deploy the weapons against his Syrian opponents or that the weapons could be seized by radical forces aligned with al-Qaeda or other groups that might seek to use them in terrorist attacks elsewhere. Hence President Obama’s stern warning on Monday that Syria would face American military intervention in the event that chemical weapons are moved or prepared for use. An aide later clarified that Obama’s warning about "moving" the weapons meant movement that would make the arsenal more vulnerable to seizure, not movement intended to secure the arsenal.

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