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27 April 2013

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William R. Cumming

Believe I am correct that the President has backed off his REDLINE of chemical weapons usage as triggering more US effort in Syria in the face of some evidence of use of Sarin!

JohnH

"Some evidence of use of Sarin"...by somebody. Things are going well at the moment for Assad. Why would he choose to use chemical weapons at this time?

Whoever did it is more likely getting desperate. Given the huge number of Assad's foreign and internal enemies, the list of potential culprits is mind boggling.

FB Ali

Mind boggling? Not really. Not many countries have Sarin. A likely scenario: UK SF produce a small quantity of it, give it to Qatari SF to release in Aleppo.

Or, something very similar.

walrus

The idea of supporting Al Qaeeda linked jihadists is mind bogglingly stupid.

Boonsong

I wonder how often over the last 20 years, politicians have thought, "Well, we can just plant stuff we've made ourselves..."
Only to be told by analytical chemists: "That is scientifically impossible, sir."

Such materials are, by their nature, volitile and complex. Different processes leave different contaminants, Different storage methods. These things change over time. Things may be considered 'pure' yet have a few p.p.billion or even p.p.trillion of contaminants.
There is simply no way to be sure your fake material will pass serious scrutiny. Processing info may become available later which shows the 'fake' has the wrong things in it, or is missing some contaminant which should be there. And the issue of ageing over time... Why don't chemists just make perfect copies of million $ wines? Because they can't - even with a sample.
Imagine trying to fake, say, mustard made in the 80's Iran/Iraq war... What method was used, how do we fake years of slow chemical change? What if a real sample, forgotton in some Swiss university since they went to test it in 1987- turns up? =busted!
I wonder if such oval conversations occured after the 1998 Sudan strike? Eventually they had to try and point to some lame schedule 2b compound.
Readers can probably imagine this issue arising at other, more recent, times as well...
There are too many excellent, independant analytical chemists who care about nothing but learning exactly, very exactly, what is in the sample they've been given.
(Of Presidents, only Carter would have understood this going in.)

Of course, in the present situ. they just have to get some of the real article, without Syria's knowledge, and use it on themselves - or more probably, others.

btw, Love your site, Sir. Very glad you go to the effort.

confusedponderer

"Things are going well at the moment for Assad. Why would he choose to use chemical weapons at this time?"

Because he is evil and irrational, that's why. See? So easy.

JohnH

The number of countries KNOWN to have Sarin is quite small, which does nothing to contradict your scenario of one ally's SF giving it to another ally's SF.

Or maybe they just supplied the soil samples. What would it take to ship Syrian soil to the UK to be mixed with Sarin there?

Tyler

So has anyone else had to go to a Senator for aid? How'd it work out? (VA issues)

Babak Makkinejad

No, no, no.

"We cannot let Iran win", said Kissinger 2 weeks ago.

Babak Makkinejad

You must understand that extremism in trying to wounding Iran in Syria is not a vice.

Fred

On a bright note I'm enjoying some cookies from La Cure Gourmande that a friend brought me from Paris. if only the baguettes traveled as well.

Babak Makkinejad

All:

SALT I and SALT II had a mechanism for adjudication of allegations of cheating by USA or USSR.

Does any one know if analogous mechanisms exists in the Chemical Weapons Treaty?

William R. Cumming

Seeing your Congressman/woman on a substantive issue as a constitutent usually best after donation of $25,000. A Senator after donation of $50,000.

In the last few administrations a PAS [Presidentially appointed Senate confirmed position] rumored to require $25-50,000 depending on position.

Fred

I had to get help from Sam Gibbons when I lived in Tampa in the late '80s. He and his staff was the most helpful group of political people I've met. I think his having been a paratrooper in WW2 had allot to do with his help. Senator Levin's staff is generally helpful but I've not needed help with the VA in awhile.

Alba Etie

Perhaps the difference in standards for politicians vs standards for scientist - is that the politicians only have to maintain the farce of WMD until such a time as the invasion forces are in place . Recall how Bush/Cheney forced the UN weapons inspectors out of Irak by the launching of 'shock and awe " ..
I personally do not see BHO taking the US to war in Syria because this administration is much more thoughtful then previous administrations about the use of military force. And I also believe this administration knows full well how bone tired the American Public is of fighting these two long engagement in Irak and the Stans .

Alba Etie

Hi Tyler
Do not know about Senators - but Central Texas Congressman Lamar Smith's office has a good record of helping veterans from all over the country .

Tyler

I talked to Senator McCain's office about issues I'm having with a VA homeloan. The ladies were very helpful in telling me what they needed from me, but we'll see the results.

Tyler

I'm trying to blog again. Hopefully I'll have a few more posts up tomorrow.

Would always appreciate critique about the layout, format, topics, tone, etc.

jackhanson.blogspot.com

optimax

The best manager I ever had was a WW2 vet. I miss those guys and gals.

confusedponderer

Babak,
I am not an expert on that treaty but here's my informed guess:

The Chemical Weapons Convention is administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). It is roughly analogous to the IAEA. The OPCW consists of the Executive Council and the Technical Directorate under the Director-General.

The relevant articles of the convention are:

Article IX. Consultations, Cooperation and Fact-Finding
Article XIV. Settlement of Disputes

http://www.opcw.org/chemical-weapons-convention/articles/

The Confidentiality Annex is most explicit in D. PROCEDURES IN CASE OF BREACHES OR ALLEGED BREACHES OF CONFIDENTIALITY

"18. The Director-General shall establish necessary procedures to be followed in case of breaches or alleged breaches of confidentiality, taking into account recommendations to be considered and approved by the Conference pursuant to Article VIII, paragraph 21 (i)."

So, a State Party makes allegations of non-compliance against another State Party, and reports them to the director of the OPCW. He then offers the OPCW's 'good offices, calling upon the States Parties to a dispute to start the settlement process of their choice and recommending a time limit for any agreed procedure'. This is fleshed out in the fact sheets:

http://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/publications/fact_sheets/05.pdf (p.4)

INVESTIGATIONS OF ALLEGED USE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS

Allegations of the use of chemical weapons have marked certain recent conflicts. During the late 1980s and early 1990s the United Nations established ad hoc teams to investigate such allegations in Iraq, Azerbaijan and Mozambique. The OPCW is the only international organisation with a legal requirement to maintain a fully trained and equipped capability to investigate allegations of use of chemical weapons on standby. Under the CWC, there are fundamentally two ways in which an investigation of alleged use (IAU) of chemical weapons can be triggered. Both involve requests from States Parties. The first is by submission of a request for a challenge inspection in a situation in which another State Party is alleged to have used chemical weapons. The second is by submission of a request for assistance in accordance with Article X to the Director-General in a situation in which chemical weapons are alleged to have been used against the requesting State Party, or riot control agents are alleged to have been used against it as a method of warfare. In the case of an Article X request of this sort, an IAU is conducted with two purposes: 1) to confirm facts related to the alleged use, and 2) to provide a basis upon which the

Executive Council can take a decision with regard to whether or not to instruct the Secretariat to take further action to assist the requesting State Party. As described in Fact Sheet 8, an investigation can also be
triggered by a request for assistance submitted because a State Party is threatened by actions or activities prohibited by the CWC. This type of investigation differs from an IAU, however, and is therefore not subject to the same procedural requirements. In addition to situations in which a State Party is alleged to have used chemical weapons or is the vic-tim of alleged use, the OPCW is to respond in cases of alleged use of chemical weapons either involving nonStates Parties or taking place in territory not controlled by States Parties. Under such circumstances, the Organisation is to cooperate closely with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, making its resources available if so requested.

Inspectors for an investigation of alleged use are chosen from amongst those selected for challenge inspections. The CWC also requires the Director-General to maintain a list of qualified experts from States Parties who could be incorporated into an inspection team to provide expertise not available within the Organisation. Once an investigation has been triggered, the Director-General is to dispatch a team at the earliest opportunity (preferably within 24 hours) and inform the Executive Council and all other States Parties of this. Upon entering the ISP, the inspection team is to have the right to access any areas which could have been affected by chemical weapons and also to other areas, such as hospitals and refugee camps. State Partys of the team may take chemical, environmental and biomedical samples for analysis on-site or off-site at an OPCW-designated laboratory. Team State Partys may also interview victims, eyewitnesses and medical personnel and participate in autopsies. Within 24 hours of arriving in the ISP, the inspection team is to send a situation report to the Director-General. A preliminary report is to be sent within 72 hours of the team ’s arrival back at The Hague, while a final report is to be submitted within 30 days. The Director-General is to transmit these reports to the Executive Council and all other States Parties. The Executive Council is to consider the reports and take appropriate decisions

Note that the fact sheet refers to two scenarios, one in which one State Party alleges use of CW against it by another State Party. The other is the use of CW against State Party, in which the State party invokes ARTICLE X and calls for the OPCW's assistance in protecting against Chemical Weapons. Notably absent is a scenario involving 'domestic quarrels', let alone by non-member states.

Potentially relevant in this context is the recognition of the Syrian opposition as a state, and perhaps as a State Party.

Inspections as described in the fact sheet would be consensual, as they must if sovereignty means anything. Just like the IAEA, the OPCW is not a chemical weapons police riot squat that can descend on alleged breaches. If it would be, such a different convention would have no found State Partys to sign it. When I think back to the asinine debates before the 2003 Iraq war, US right wing politicos like to bemoan the lack of coerciveness of OPCW or IAEA inspections against states tarteget for regime change. That, however, is anathema to the idea of national sovereignty, as they well know. They would never ratify a treaty with such provisions, but presumably that's exceptionalism for you.

Naturally, there is a tendency of states to over-classify information that they provide to the OPCW. The height of absurdity in this respect is South Korea’s attempt to classify its own name: it requires the OPCW to refer to ‘A State Party’ when mentioning the country’s declared chemical weapon stockpile. And as naturally, if one is so inclined, politicos will always say that there are other secret sites that have not been declared and some such, of that the other side has been hiding something. After all, who would let an investigative forensic chemist's findings come into the way of a desired policy?

And, in light of how the US conjured a mandate to invade Iraq out of an ambiguously worded UNSC resolution, and just for the heck of it: The phrase "challenge inspection" used in the fact sheet does NOT mean "invade and turn the place upside down".

As I hinted to, in the case of Syria, neither of the above written is directly applicable, as they have not signed the convention, and are thus unbound by it. Israel, just like Myanmar, in contrast have chosen the weasely way, and signed the convention 20 years ago, but have not ratified it yet, probably due to lack of time to consider the grave matter in depth, leaving them unbound by the convention also. Honi soit ...

Considering the almost universal signing of the convention, some international lawyers make the case that it has become customary international law, which would make the point of not having ratified or signed it moot. I consider that view to be too progressive, but it is one that can be made. However, the carefully worded language of the last statement by the OPCW on Syria from July 24, 2012 suggests that they share my more conservative view:

"The OPCW echoes the view of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that it would be ‘reprehensible’ if anybody was contemplating the use of weapons of mass destruction, like chemical weapons, in Syria. The prohibition on the use of chemical weapons is established in international law and, if stockpiles of chemical weapons exist and there is the possibility they may be deployed, this is a matter of grave concern to the international community as a whole. The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production, stockpiling or use of these weapons and today has 188 States Parties."

Legally, nothing has changed since then, so this is statement still valid, as underlined by the statement from March 19, 2013:

"The OPCW Director General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, is deeply concerned about allegations of a possible use of chemical weapons in Syria and the OPCW will continue to monitor the situation there closely. As he has stated previously, the use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances would be reprehensible and is completely contrary to the legal norms and standards of the international community."

The point is: No talk about Syria being in violation of the CWC. They aren't because they aren't a State Party. As for the conservativism of the OPCW statement, it is my personal experience that servants of international treaty are acutely aware of the matter of sovereignty, and take great care not to exceed their mandate.

Regime change on the other hand embodies a spirit quite different than conservatism, and such spirit cannot possibly be content with such careful wording.

William R. Cumming

Thanks ConfusedPonderer for extracts. Excuse my laziness but I know the President signed that treaty but wonder about its ratification?

I do know that the US and Russia both missed the deadlines in the treaty for chemical weapon disposal. Now scheduled for 2017 by the US!

Fred

That is precisely what is wrong with the current members of the government.

confusedponderer

PS: The key phrase from the fact sheet for the Syria situation is this:

"Under such circumstances, the Organisation is to cooperate closely with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, making its resources available if so requested."

I.e. if the OPCW investigates, it will do so when called on by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and he will ask them to when prompted by the UNSC, for instance by the UNSC asking him to, by issuing an according resolution.

confusedponderer

The US have both signed and ratified the CWC.

The lag in disposing their CWC is a result of the huge quantities produced in the US and Russia. It just takes a lot of time to properly and safely dispose of all that vile stuff.

I remember Operation Lindwurm in 1990, when the US withdrew all their CW from Germany, fortunately without incident.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Steel_Box

rick

In keeping with my habit of introducing light musical interludes in to open threads, because lord knows a bit of lightening up couldn't hurt, I dedicate this one explicitly to our host.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you "Tired", by Ms. Lilly VonSchtupp

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laq2rNiWDYQ

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