Syria and Biological Weapons? And Cluster Munitions?Posted: September 5, 2013
SYRIA AND BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS?
Joby Warrick has a story in today’s Washington Post about emerging concerns that Syria has, and might use, biological weapons. The article states:
Syria’s bioweapons program, which U.S. officials believe has been largely dormant since the 1980s, is likely to possess the key ingredients for a weapon, including a collection of lethal bacteria and viruses as well as the modern equipment needed to covert them into deadly powders and aerosols, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials and weapons experts.
This latent capability has begun to worry some of Syria’s neighbors, especially after allegations that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad used internationally banned chemical weapons against civilians in an Aug. 21 attack.
Top intelligence officials in two Middle East countries said they have examined the potential for bioweapons use by Syria, perhaps as retaliation for Western military strikes on Damascus. Although dwarfed by the country’s larger and better-known chemical weapons program, Syria’s bioweapons capability could offer the Assad regime a way to retaliate because the weapons are designed to spread easily and leave few clues about their origins, the officials said.
The story is definitely worth a read, but I am not going to guess what people might read into it.
Very briefly, as for the applicable treaty law on biological weapons, Syria is a party to the Geneva Protocol of 1925 but is not a party to the Biological Weapons Convention. As with chemical weapons, most international lawyers hold that customary international law bans the use of biological weapons in any form of armed conflict. As a member of the UN, Syria is subject to relevant Security Council decisions on biological weapons, such as Resolution 1540 on preventing non-state actors from obtaining WMD material.
SYRIA AND CLUSTER MUNITIONS?
Rick Gladstone in the New York Times reports on allegations that the Syrian military has used cluster munitions:
In the shadow of a confrontation over whether Syria’s government had attacked civilians with internationally banned chemical munitions, a rights group reported Wednesday that Syrian armed forces had repeatedly used cluster bombs, another widely prohibited weapon, in the country’s civil war.
The group, Human Rights Watch, said in a report on cluster bomb use that it had documented dozens of locations in Syria where cluster bombs had been fired over the past year.
Cluster bombs are munitions that may be fired from artillery or rocket systems or dropped from aircraft. They are designed to explode in the air over their target and disperse hundreds of tiny bomblets over an area the size of a football field. Each bomblet detonates on impact, spraying shrapnel in all directions and killing, maiming and destroying indiscriminately.
The Human Rights Watch report mentioned can be found here. Syria is not a state party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.