There should be no question that chemical weapon stockpiles pose a threat to the security and safety of the United States. However, the nature of this threat is often misrepresented. The likelihood of another state striking the United States with chemical weapons is slim to none. Not only would such an attack be difficult to pull off, but it would be a death sentence for the perpetrating government. The real threat is the possibility of a chemically armed terrorist organization.
From a tactical perspective, chemical weapons can be likened to a poor man’s nuke. Pound for pound, they are less deadly and generally lack the physical destructiveness of a nuclear device. Whereas nuclear fallout and radiation can last for decades, chemical residue does not last very long and is comparatively easy to clean up. All that being said, chemical weapons are cheap to produce and rely on simple technologies. It is for these reasons that poorer nations, lacking the capability to build nuclear arsenals, choose to assemble stockpiles of chemical weapons instead.
Since terrorists are the only people willing to openly attack the United States, and since no government will ever risk giving them chemical weapons, it stands to reason that the only plausible way for a chemical attack on the United States to occur is for a terrorist organization to steal from a chemical stockpile. Such theft is most likely to occur in countries where the government is weak or defunct.
This leads to two conclusions. First, that the mere presence of chemical weapons in a war-torn nation like Syria threatens the safety of the United States and the international community. Second, that the stronger Assad’s regime is, the less likely terrorists are to get ahold of these chemical weapons. It is clear then, why the United States and Russia are so eager to see Assad’s stockpile destroyed. Without the presence of chemical weapons, the international community loses most of its reasons for caring what happens in the Syrian Civil War. Whether Assad wins, the rebels win, or both lose and anarchy ensues, there will be nothing inside Syria threatening anyone except those few countries unlucky enough to border the failing state.
The decision to treat the use of chemical weapons as a “red line” for the Assad regime makes very little sense. Though atrocious, immoral, and a crime against humanity; the use of chemical weapons within Syria does not pose a threat to the greater international community. The argument has been made that the use of chemical weapons is significant because of the speed and suddenness with which they kill. A handful of terrorists looking to attack a neighborhood would be hard pressed to do much damage with conventional weapons. It is then true that a chemical weapon would make their task far easier. However, the claim that removing Syria’s chemical weapons will save Syrian civilians is preposterous. The Assad regime has thousands of soldiers and vast stores of military-grade hardware. If the regime wishes to kill several hundred people, their machine guns and tanks will prove just as effective as a canister of Sarin gas.
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