Syria and Biological Weapons? And Cluster Munitions?


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.


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.


10 Comments on “Syria and Biological Weapons? And Cluster Munitions?”

  1. Johnboy says:

    My take on that article?

    The entire thing could have been replaced by a single word writ large in a massive typeface:

    I suppose Obama can now pronounce a new line in the sand.

    I wonder what colour? After all, Red is already taken…..

  2. Cyrus says:

    This “news” story is basically rumor-mongering. What the heck is a biological weapons “capability” exactly, especially since an oil-producing country necessarily has the technology to make chemicals, and any sort of biological program “could” be used to develop bio weapons? Don’t most national health institutes keep pathogen stocks for R&D? Heck in 1985 the US even sent West Nile Virus samples to a university in Iraq. Doesn’t mean West Nile Virus was necessarily part of a bio-weapons program.

  3. It is amazing how the propaganda in this country works. One of the leading newspapers in this country, whose editorial page was taken over by the neocons, even though WP had a reputation for being “liberal,” has been constantly warmongering and advocating sanctions, war, and destruction in the ME, and Dr. Fidler who should know better takes it seriously enough to post it here. I cannot decide which one amazes me more, WP printing it, or Dr. Fidler posting it here.

    • David P. Fidler says:

      So we can’t share on this blog stories published in the press that have elements that should be criticized for what they contain and who they use as sources? In other communications In other places I have had today, experts have been going back and forth about a number of things about this story, including the serious problems related to the WP reporter citing certain sources for information–all of which suggests this story deserved scrutiny and criticism from experts. My posting of it was not an endorsement of anything it contained or of any source cited in it. I cannot decide what amazes me more, the useful discussions I have watched develop today elsewhere about this story or a response that pegs me as a gullible twit. But, I think the nature of responses on this blog is teaching me that I should know better than to continue posting on it.

      • My view and experience both are that the more people discuss nonsense “reporting” – read warmongering – the more the nonsense becomes “fact.” I never say to anyone what to post and what not, who am I to say that after all, but I do believe we should be careful about helping propagating such nonsense.

  4. yousaf says:

    Joby Warrick has a history of hype, and this article of his fits into that.

    I personally rebutted his nonsense before:

    As for cluster munitions against civilians: don’t we give those to Israel also?

    Perhaps it’s time to enforce our own Arms Export Control Act.

  5. masoud says:

    Since strongly voiced critiques of recent editorial choices of this blog are seemingly banned from the comment’s section, I’m not going to bother writing anything about this current entry.

    I am curious as to whether links to the same type of material are also a faux-pas.

    I’m posting a link to a comment of mine that was censored from the last entry on this blog. Let’s see if the powers at be are at least as tolerant as Jeffery Lewis, at armscontrolwonk, who’s tolerated multiple plugs of this site on his, even though he object’s to it’s focus on legal matters.

  6. yousaf says:

    Maybe an ACL blog post about this would add useful context?

    “UN: Israel cluster bomb use in Lebanon ‘outrageous’ ”,7340,L-3305802,00.html

  7. yousaf says:

    Joby Warrick short version of story: a country that has bioweapons could use them.

    To heck with editing, let’s publish.