Why are chemical weapons such a big deal?

  • Trump seemed to be a big supporter of the current Syrian regime up until the recent chemical weapons attack. But why are chemical weapons such a big deal? What's the difference between killing 100 people with a bomb and doing the same with a chemical weapon?

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    "seemed to be a big supporter of the current Syrian regime" - [citation needed]. Quoting Trump in 2016 debate: “I don’t like Assad at all”.

    There is at least 3 considerations from which to approach your question. (1) Why is it a "big deal" from a humanitarian point of view? (2) Why is it a "big deal" from a legal point of view? (3) Why is it a big deal from a military point of view? You will get different answers depending on which point of view people decide to emphasize in their answers. Do you want all of the points of view considered or do you want an answer from a combinations of points of view other than all of them? Unless you specify that in your question, you are soliciting an opinion rather than an answer.

  • pjc50

    pjc50 Correct answer

    5 years ago

    Chemical weapons, like certain other kinds of weapons are banned not because of people killed by them, but because of what they do to the survivors.

    A summary from NPR: http://www.npr.org/2013/05/01/180348908/why-chemical-weapons-have-been-a-red-line-since-world-war-i

    It's a little counterintuitive that international law prefers weapons that kill cleanly over weapons that mutilate, but it's a widespread principle. It's also a motivation behind the ban on anti-personnel mines.

    (Remember that mere suspicion of possession of chemical weapons was considered grounds for invading Iraq!)

    In general you can assume the UN will take a stance based on the idea that pain is more of a issue then death; that the fear of death is more of a issue then death itself, etc.

    As an aside, chemical weapons weren't the *only* reason for the US invasion of Iraq.

    @Anoplexian Also, the degree of confidence that Iraq had chemical weapons was a good deal higher than "suspicion".

    I mean, I don't know about you, but I'd rather die relatively quickly (~2h, max, for the majority of fatal bullet wounds) or lose a limb than die because I'm coughing so hard my lungs shred themselves (mustard gas) or because my muscles, constantly triggered by uncontrollable electrical impulses, use up all the oxygen before my brain can (VX).

    It's not really all that counter-intuitive - it's the obvious point where both aggressors and defenders agree on. Unless you're in for genocide, you don't want to *mutilate* people in the country you're attacking - you ideally want to disable them for the duration of the war so that they're ready to work for you when the war is over. This has been recognized (with some exceptions, of course) for thousands of years in European history, and is also the basis of the protection of civilians during war. And neither of them wants the burden of supporting the survivors of a chemical attack.

    @JirkaHanika There's no circularity. The answer says that the USA and its allies had a "mere suspicion" that Iraq had chemical weapons; I'm saying that actually the USA and its allies were fairly sure that Iraq had chemical weapons. (Though I agree that my saying they were sure enough to start a war wasn't helpful, since the point we're discussing is, essentially, how sure you'd have to be to start a war. I've deleted that comment.)

    @DavidRicherby I should probably not have tried to summarise decades of controversy over who knew what and whether they had proof as "mere suspicion"; but the Blix investigation was still ongoing. What there was not was conclusive incontrovertible proof before starting the war.

    @pjc50 I totally agree.

    @JirkaHanika I left my original comment because it's a reply to somebody else's comment and because I stand by what I wrote.

    I've always thought that the primary reason for banning land mines was that they remain dangerous for years and decades, eventually killing more civilians than military personnel. That's quite different from the chemical weapon stigma.

    @Anoplexian: Well, we know they weren't _at all_ the reason, since: 1. The US didn't have serious evidence Iraq had any (its own ex-post-facto self-justification notwithstanding) and 2. Even had the US been 100% certain of their existence it would be rather unfazed, and would definitely not have invaded over _that_.

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution


Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM