It's been one hundred years since British poet and infantryman Wilfrid Owen described a soldier suffocating on chlorine gas during World War I: “I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight. He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”
In remarks to the Security Council April 4th, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley pointed out that World War I was the first time chemical weapons were used in modern conflict. The horror of the suffering such weapons caused drove the world, first, to ban their use, and then to ban their production and stockpiling too. “We dared to believe that we could banish the threat forever,” Ambassador Haley said.
But Syria’s Bashar al Assad is a man with other goals. In 2013 Assad used sarin gas against his own people on the outskirts of Damascus. The pictures of hundreds of dead men, women, and children shocked the world. In response, as Ambassador Haley recounted, the UN adopted Resolution 2118 mandating the destruction of the Assad regime’s arsenal of chemical weapons. In 2015, the UN established the Joint Investigative Mechanism to identify anyone who used chemical weapons in Syria.
But one member of the Council, Russia, “shielded the Assad regime from any consequences; then blocked the Security Council from renewing the Joint Investigative Mechanism,” noted Ambassador Haley. “The world,” she said, “is a far more dangerous place because of it. The Assad regime keeps dropping chlorine bombs on innocent men, women, and children.”
When there are no consequences for such actions, others take note, Ambassador Haley declared, “as the use of nerve agents in Salisbury and Kuala Lampur proves.”
Speaking to the Council on the one-year anniversary of the Syrian regime’s dropping of chemical bombs on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing scores of civilians, Ambassador Haley challenged the Council to continue to fight to rid the word of chemical weapons and to hold to account “anyone, anywhere who uses them.”
“Let us use this meeting as the start of a renewed partnership and a renewed commitment to put an end to the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” she said. “Even with all of the profound divisions on this Council, the United States refuses to believe that we cannot come together once again to stop chemical weapons. Not just to protect the Syrian people, but to protect us all.”