Breakthrough against chemical weapons

For the first time, an agency enforcing an international treaty directly blames a government for a gas attack on civilians. Now the world must act on Syria’s violation of global norms.

White Helmets/Reuters TV
A girl looks on as people in Douma, Syria, are inspected and cleaned after an alleged chemical weapons attack on April 8, 2018.

One of the world’s most popular treaties is the Chemical Weapons Convention, supported by 193 states. Last week, the agency charged with enforcing the treaty achieved a historic first. It directly attributed a series of poisonous gas attacks on civilians to a particular government – Syria’s – holding it accountable for violating a global norm against such an indiscriminate tool of war.

The 82-page report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) did not receive much attention. The world is currently focused on a biological threat, COVID-19. Yet the detailed investigation of the Syrian military’s use of sarin and chlorine gas in 2017 is a breakthrough in how the world deals with the most dangerous substances. If leaders are now being held responsible for stopping the spread of the coronavirus, surely the Syrian regime can be held to account for inflicting deadly gases on innocent people during the country’s long civil war.

Both Europe and the United States are eyeing new sanctions on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to stop further attacks in opposition strongholds. Past efforts by the West have been stymied at the United Nations by Russia, a close ally of Syria. With this new report, however, Russia’s obstruction tactics may be weakened.

Enforcement of the chemical weapons treaty has been uneven but generally successful. The OPCW has verified the elimination of 97% of the world’s declared chemical weapons. Now those types of weapons remaining in Syria need special attention by the international community.

Over the past century, as humans have tried to understand, use, and control the physical world, the more they have also expanded their understanding of their moral responsibilities. A key one is the universal right to life for innocent people during a conflict, enshrined in international agreements. Weapons of mass killing have no place in such a world. Pinpointing blame for their use is a giant step in that direction

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.