British Government Approved The Sale of Chemicals That Syria Used to Make Nerve Gas

Syria massacre

There have been accusations in the past during the ongoing Syrian civil war that chemical weapons were used several times, but in President Obama’s request to Congress for authorization to use military force (AUMF) he specifically cites an August 21st event on the outskirts of Damascus. Critics complain the AUMF is too broad and have legitimate concerns Congress can alter it beyond the scope of limited missile strikes, but between the President’s word that no ground troops will be involved and objections against a larger action it is safe to assume limited strikes will be the final order if Congress authorizes action. Within the AUMF, there is reference to a U.N. resolution 1540 (2004) that bears scrutiny including why action is being requested in the first place. The draft resolution of the AUMF authorizes the President to use force to: a) stop the “proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons  that constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” and b) “prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other states).”

Although it is not exactly clear where Syria acquired chemical weapons, it is clear who sold them materials used in their manufacture that violates U.N. Resolution 1540 which establishes legally binding [1] obligations on all UN Member States to have and enforce appropriate and effective measures against the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons (WMD), their delivery systems, and related materials, and [2] closes gaps in nonproliferation treaties and conventions to help prevent terrorists and criminal organizations from obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapons.” According to Resolution 1540, member states have three primary obligations to “adopt and enforce effective laws prohibiting activities involving the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery; and, 3) have and enforce effective measures to reduce the vulnerability of many legitimate activities to misuse in ways that would foster the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery.”

It is now reported that 10 months after civil unrest in Syria began, England allowed at least one chemical firm to sell chemicals to Syria capable of being used to make nerve gas by granting export licenses for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride. The chemicals are capable of being used to make weapons such as Sarin that is suspected to be the nerve gas agent used against Syrians in a Damascus suburb on August 21st that killed 1,429 people, including 426 children. The chemical export licenses were granted by England’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills  headed by Business Secretary Vince Cable on January 10th, and were revoked six months later only after the European Union imposed tough sanctions on Assad’s regime. However, the question Prime Minister Cameron has to answer is why the chemicals were sold to Assad while he was in a conflict with rebels and it is a question Members of Parliament are demanding he answer; especially after he appealed for authorization for military action against Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people with chemicals furnished by British firm(s).

Members of Parliament demand to know, “who these chemicals were sold to, why they were sold, and whether the UK Government were aware that the chemicals could potentially be used for chemical weapons. The MPs are livid and feel betrayed and claim “The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria makes a full explanation around these shady deals even more important.” Mark Bitel of the Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “We saw (Prime Minister) David Cameron, in the wake of the Arab Spring, rushing off to the Middle East with arms companies to promote business,” and accused the English government of being “hypocritical to talk about chemical weapons when it’s granting licenses to companies to export to regimes such as Syria.” Mr. Bitel also said the English government “claims to have an ethical policy on arms exports, but when it comes down to practice the reality is very different.” It is impossible to believe that the British government was unaware the chemicals could  be used for chemical weapons, and it is an outrage that they allowed sales to Syria ten months after the civil war began and ceased shipping them only after the European Union enacted sanctions against the Syrian government.

Members of parliament are demanding a full comprehensive investigation into the sordid business practices, but Cameron’s government should also face a United Nations investigation and the harshest condemnation for violating Resolution 1540 that clearly states its signatories “prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other states” such as Syria during a bloody civil war. Thus far, Cameron’s government has not been forthcoming about the UK’s sale of the chemicals to Syria because they withheld crucial export dates the chemicals were shipped to Syria, and refused to identify the license holders or say whether the licenses were issued to one or two companies.

President Obama and Congress should also demand answers from Cameron; particularly because of the seriousness of the debate to use American military force to dissuade the Syrian government from using chemical weapons in the future. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, England is responsible for “preventing organizations from obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapons” and for “enforcing effective measures to reduce the vulnerability of many legitimate activities to misuse in ways that would foster the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” It is likely the chemicals the British government allowed companies to ship to Syria could be used for legitimate activities, but they did not enforce effective measures to prevent misuse by a dictator engaged in a civil war.

Besides being hypocritical, England is guilty of approving export of dangerous chemicals 10 months after the Syrian civil war began, and only stopped when the EU place sanctions on Syria 6 months later. The government has not been forthcoming with dates the chemicals were shipped or revealed the firm(s) that sold and profited from selling to Syria, and it prevents thorough investigations Members of Parliament demand and casts greater suspicion on the government.

England has a responsibility to prevent the spread of chemical weapons as a member of the United Nations, and as America’s ally pushing for military action, they owe this country all the information they have relating to where and when Syria acquired chemicals to manufacture chemical weapons. President Obama, Congress, and the United Nations should join Members of Parliament and demand, forthwith, all the information about chemical weapon “related materials” they sold to the Syrian government and explain their failure to adopt and enforce effective laws prohibiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

 

 

 

 

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