Early in the morning Hague appeared on one of the BBC's flagship political news "chat" shows, Andrew Marr. It was good to see Andrew Marr, recovering after suffering a stroke, back in the hot-seat. His interviewing style is relaxed but always searching. Mr Hague appeared calm but authoritative but did he shed any light on the Syrian crisis and the plans of world leaders?
He was at pains to say that world leaders could hardly detail their plans publicly. Whilst we all understand the reasons for that, the lack of transparency adds to the concern of those who are cautious about military strikes against Assad. Questions such as:
- What will happen following any military strikes?
- How many people will be killed in military attacks?
- Why are we supporting the rebels?
- Did the rebels use the chemical weapons and if so who supplied them?
- Where do the people of Syria fit into the equation?
- Are the rebels more than a bunch of hoodlums?
- Should we interfere in a civil war?
- Could we be sowing the seeds of WW111
- Why do we choose to act in some countries and not others?
- As our intervention in Egypt resulted in a country in tatters why do we believe we have it right this time?
Flipping channels following the Marr show there was more debate on Syria. This time it included attacks on liberals who do not support military strikes -- labelling them all as people happy to stand by and watch others be killed. Someone should have told them that verbal attack is the poorest form of defense.
It is easy to feel intimidated if you are called weak, a coward or misinformed but those who can spin events the best do not always tell the truth.
In my opinion many "liberals" are appalled at the senseless killing and humanitarian crisis in Syria. They are appalled that western governments have been propping up a dodgy bunch of rebels in order to oust Assad. They are appalled that we are working with countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has a terrible track record on human and women's rights, in order to oust Assad.
They believe, or at least this one does, that the mission has always been about ousting Assad, power in the middle east, oil, Israel and gas. There are many reports and opinion pieces online about the control of gas and oil in Syria and the region, and possible reasons for military strikes. The Guardian has an interesting one which can be found here.
The west now has a huge problem. Having backed itself into a corner how it responds could determine our future. However surely military strikes launched to save face will not result in anything positive in the long term?
A crucial question also remains in many people's minds and that is "Have western nations and special forces been working behind the scenes, for the last two years, to pull down Assad?" Perhaps if leaders came clean about their real agenda they would garner some support. That would at least allow people to judge the situation on the facts.
Gone are the days when governments, as in WW1, wage a lengthy war following incidents abroad with the full support of the people. Times change. Look at those images of keen young men following the UK government war-machine and almost gleefully marching of to war. What a different picture they portrayed when they returned from the battlefields, the few who survived that is.
Chemical weapons were used in that war leading to global condemnation of such weapons and an international pact. Syria is not part of that pact. As of early 2013 Angola, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan also remained Non-signatory states to the Chemical weapons convention. At that time two nations had signed but not ratified their treaties and they were Israel and Myanmar -- Wikipedia.
What remains worrying is the amount of chemical weapons "out there". Although the CWC is committed to destroying chemical weapons stockpiles remain.
According to Wikipedia: "The total world declared stockpile of chemical weapons was about 30,308 tons in early 2010. A total of 71,315 tonnes of agents, 8.67 million munitions and containers, and 70 production facilities were declared to OPCW before destruction activities began. In addition, several countries that are not members are suspected of having chemical weapons, especially Syria and North Korea, while some member states (including Sudan and the People's Republic of China) have been accused by others of failing to disclose their stockpiles."
So does the commitment to remove or control chemical weapons make you feel any safer?
Referring to Wikipedia again the CWC classifes chemicals into three classes:
- Schedule 1 chemicals have few, or no uses outside of chemical weapons. These may be produced or used for research, medical, pharmaceutical or chemical weapon defence testing purposes but production above 100 grams per year must be declared to the OPCW. A country is limited to possessing a maximum of 1 tonne of these materials. Examples are mustard and nerve agents, and substances which are solely used as precursor chemicals in their manufacture. A few of these chemicals have very small scale non-military applications, for example minute quantities of nitrogen mustard are used to treat certain cancers.
- Schedule 2 chemicals have legitimate small-scale applications. Manufacture must be declared and there are restrictions on export to countries which are not CWC signatories. An example is thiodiglycol which can be used in the manufacture of mustard agents, but is also used as a solvent in inks.
- Schedule 3 chemicals have large-scale uses apart from chemical weapons. Plants which manufacture more than 30 tonnes per year must be declared and can be inspected, and there are restrictions on export to countries which are not CWC signatories. Examples of these substances are phosgene, which has been used as a chemical weapon but which is also a precursor in the manufacture of many legitimate organic compounds, and triethanolamine, used in the manufacture of nitrogen mustard but also commonly used in toiletries and detergents.
We should not forget that since the infamous use of chemical weapons in WW1 other lethal weapons have been made. Atomic bombs and unmanned killer drones are in some people's minds the new chemical weapons, but of course there will be more in the pipeline.
Who may have used chemical weapons since WW1 is debatable. Read this blog for one person's view. It may be wrong but it could offer more food for thought as you weigh up the "next move" and how you stand on Syria.
When Kerry meets Hague later today they will be both be on the same side but are the majority of American people and the British? After all that is who they represent.
Opting to call liberals who believe military strikes are wrong cowards or weak harks back to pre WW1 days when those who did not volunteer to fight were given Four Feathers of shame.
NYTimes: Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in West
The Syrian rebels posed casually, standing over their prisoners with firearms pointed down at the shirtless and terrified men. The prisoners, seven in all, were captured Syrian soldiers. Five were trussed, their backs marked with red welts. They kept their faces pressed to the dirt as the rebels’ commander recited a bitter revolutionary verse. “For fifty years, they are companions to corruption,” he said. “We swear to the Lord of the Throne, that this is our oath: We will take revenge.” The moment the poem ended, the commander, known as “the Uncle,” fired a bullet into the back of the first prisoner’s head. His gunmen followed suit, promptly killing all the men at their feet. Full report here