It’s time to destroy all chemical weapons

UPDATE: I discussed the issue of destroying all chemical weapons in the aftermath of the Syria crisis with Arnie Arnesen on WNHN. To listen or download, click the MP3 link here. What we did to Summers, we can do again. Thanks.

I’ve written much about using the power of timing and leverage as a force multiplier (for example, here). This is one of those times — the whole world, Obama to Putin to media pundits everywhere, have handed us the lever.

How about we use it? With world public and media hysteria — some of it faux, much of it real  — focused on Syria’s stored chemical weapons (CW), why not leverage that timing to broaden the discussion to include destruction of all stored chemical weapons? Including those in the United States, but certainly not those alone.

Wouldn’t that be a worthy goal too? Who would say no if we asked the question publicly enough? After all, it’s almost the definition of low-hanging fruit. Common Dreams (my emphasis):

US Grandstands on Chemical Weapons Treaty While Violating It
Government keeps tons of chemical weapons in Kentucky and Colorado, breaking global commitments to destroy them
– Sarah Lazare, staff writer

As the Obama administration continues to threaten military intervention in Syria unless the government of Bashar al-Assad follows international ‘norms’ on chemical weapons, the U.S. government violates those very norms by storing tons of chemical weapons at facilities in Kentucky and Colorado, breaking its own promises to the international community.

The U.S. government keeps approximately 2,611 tons of mustard gas in a facility in Colorado, and 524 tons of a spectrum of chemical weapons—including deadly nerve agent Sarin—in a facility in Kentucky, despite commitments to have already destroyed its chemical arsenals by now.

As a ratifier of the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty, overseen by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons at the Hague, the U.S. agreed in 1997 to destroy its chemical weapons stocks within 10 years, with the possibility of a 5-year extension. Yet, with the latest possible deadline of 2012 now passed, U.S. officials say that they can’t destroy all of their arsenalsuntil 2023.

Furthermore, chemical weapons inspectors have been stymied several times by U.S. politicians since the U.S. ratified the agreement, including President George W. Bush’s 2002 role in successfully pushing for the firing of José Maurício Bustani, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons who pushed for thorough inspection of U.S. facilities.

There’s more; the whole thing is worth reading.

It wouldn’t take a genius to point this out, nor geniuses among the public to understand it. Obama hates him some CW. Great; let’s take him at his word — and hold him to his word.

Timing and leverage. They go away as fast as they show up.

Why bring this up?

This is a classic turnkey, handed-to-us opportunity; we just have to act. But lots of us have to act, not just the lone and lonely writers here at La Maison chez nous. With enough voices, this is doable.

Chris Hayes? Rachel Maddow? Editors at The Nation? Bill Moyers? You could all do this, ring this bell, next week.

And what about the mainstream layer around those progressives? Chris Matthews? Rev. Al? Melissa Harris-Perry? You can do this too — I’m certain you all care about the babies, as do we all. (I challenge the last two for a reason, an important one. The public face of the black community should have no qualms about uniting behind a CW storage ban, and their support matters, adds enormous leverage.)

How about an organized throw-down from us the people, aimed at town-hall-challenging the loudest CW-hating House and Senate voices? How about direct questions, cameras rolling, to Obama himself and members of his administration?

Again, this is doable, but we have to do it. As Robert Cruickshank points out via email:

Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals #4: Make the target live up to its own book of rules.

This is a great moment to make Congress and the White House live up to their “book of rules” when it comes to chemical weapons. If Assad can’t have them, and he certainly should not, than neither should the United States. This is a great opportunity to push for total US disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction, nukes as well as chemical. Make the hypocrisy work for us.

The bottom-line for everyone involved in this discussion:

If you care, how much do you care?
Will you seek the worldwide destruction of all chemical weapons?

This is one we can win, if we’re willing to act together. The moment will pass, however. No time to dither (see rule 4 at the link).

A second objective — Redefine banned weapons

One way to use this moment is to push the destruction of all chemical weapons, not just ban their use. Another way is to redefine banned weapons.

After all, chemical weapons got a bad name for being prominently used in a “bad” (universally hated) war, WW I. There are now many worse weapons in the world, all of which we use or have used.

Wikipedia (my emphasis and paragraphing):

Agent Orange or Herbicide Orange (HO) is one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971.

Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of the use of contaminated batches [explained here] of the compound. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems due to Agent Orange. The United States government has challenged these figures as being unreliable and unrealistically high.


Depleted uranium (DU; also referred to in the past as Q-metal, depletalloy or D-38) is uranium with a lower content of the fissile isotope U-235 than natural uranium. …

As early as 1997, British Army doctors warned the British MoD (Ministry of Defence) that exposure to depleted uranium increased the risk of developing lung, lymph and brain cancer, and recommended a series of safety precautions.

According to a report issued summarizing the advice of the doctors, “Inhalation of insoluble uranium dioxide dust will lead to accumulation in the lungs with very slow clearance—if any. … Although chemical toxicity is low, there may be localised radiation damage of the lung leading to cancer.”

The report warns that “All personnel … should be aware that uranium dust inhalation carries a long-term risk … [the dust] has been shown to increase the risks of developing lung, lymph and brain cancers.” …

The chemical toxicity of depleted uranium is about a million times greater in vitro than its radiological hazard, with the kidney considered to be the main target organ. …

Graph showing the rate per 1,000 births of congenital malformations observed at Basra University Hospital, Iraq (source)

Graph showing the rate per 1,000 births of
congenital malformations observed at
Basra University Hospital, Iraq (source)


White phosphorus is a material made from a common allotrope of the chemical element phosphorus that is used in smoke, tracer, illumination and incendiary munitions. Other common names include WP, and the slang term “Willie Pete,” which is dated from its use in Vietnam, and is still sometimes used in military jargon. As an incendiary weapon, white phosphorus burns fiercely and can ignite cloth, fuel, ammunition and other combustibles. …

White phosphorus over Gaza

White phosphorus over Gaza

Incandescent particles of WP cast off by a WP weapon’s initial explosion can produce extensive, deep second and third degree burns. One reason why this occurs is the tendency of the element to stick to the skin. Phosphorus burns carry a greater risk of mortality than other forms of burns due to the absorption of phosphorus into the body through the burned area, resulting in liver, heart and kidney damage, and in some cases multiple organ failure.

These weapons are particularly dangerous to exposed people because white phosphorus continues to burn unless deprived of oxygen or until it is completely consumed. In some cases, burns are limited to areas of exposed skin because the smaller WP particles do not burn completely through personal clothing before being consumed.

Each of these weapons has been or is being broadly used, including and especially by the West. If the world is serious about, well, the children and other civilian innocents, let’s ban them all, and now. If they really care about acting against CW in Syria now, then now should be a perfect time act on this as well.

What you can do

I think the people listed above — from Hayes to Moyers to Harris-Parry to reporters at press conferences to name writers at, say, Huffington Post — are perfectly placed to ask the chemical weapons question loudly, publicly, often and together.

And I think you’re perfectly placed to ask them to ask it.

See the list of people named above; they’re all reachable. And frankly, sometimes all it takes is for someone to make the suggestion. Operators are waiting for your calls, and I hear Twitter’s been invented. Go for it.

UPDATE: Did you hear that Larry Summers backed down for Fed Chairman? This is how winning this way works.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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34 Responses to “It’s time to destroy all chemical weapons”

  1. Dania says:

    Just destroy it now, then another kinds of weapons.

    tram huong

  2. Centralist says:

    Could not agree more, Obama is ruining this country by going off on his own missions… what happened to democracy?

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  3. Ziad k abdelnour says:

    Any Solutions To Our Dismal Government Policies?

    Poll after poll show that despite President Obama’s rhetorical skills most of us Americans today don’t like his core policies.

    This is not a partisan statement … It is a fact that most Americans today
    have come to despise both mainstream Democratic and mainstream
    Republican party policies alike.
    –By Ziad k abdelnour

  4. ab gujjar says:

    yes i agree with you we will have save ourself.


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  5. benb says:

    Sorry, but I don’t give a rat’s ass about Larry Summers. Getting every country onboard with the abolition of chemical weapons…oh my God…this is a Forever Moment. In my lifetime—I so hope for it.

    Fritz Haber ( not quite but close to the real Dr. Frankenstein of CM.

    Oh yeah, trivia moment….depleted uranium is commonly used in anti-tank weapons because it’s really not that radioactive but it’s really dense.

  6. Badgerite says:

    No comment.

  7. Badgerite says:

    It means you took it up only after it played out that what the President did actually resulted in the probable dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal which was until very recently actively being used on the Syrian population. And which you were not particularly concerned about.

  8. BloggerDave says:

    First of all, Larry Summers was up for Fed Chairman not any position in the DOD, second, it’s not temporary, Larry Summers is definitely out, and third, he probably means his 1,539 Twitter followers… And it’s dishonest…

  9. Ford Prefect says:

    We can’t manufacture them without violating the Prohibition we are signatory to. The only reason we still possess them is because of the rank failure of the US to abide by its own commitments. Failure to abide is one thing. But remanufacture would be a crime.

  10. samizdat says:

    I believe that when he says ‘we’, he means the active left anti-war population of citizens who made their voices heard loudly enough to have an affect–albeit likely only temporarily.

  11. BloggerDave says:

    “What we did to Summers, we can do again. Thanks.”
    It’s dishonest for you to take credit for results where you had marginal influence at best…

  12. karmanot says:

    Right on spot Gaius!

  13. karmanot says:

    Nasty, cynical and apparently never on the topic either. PPPFFFTTTT

  14. GaiusPublius says:

    I’m not sure what that means.

    Sept 6:


  15. Badgerite says:

    A little late to the topic, aren’t you?

  16. gratuitous says:

    Futility? Perhaps. But if it starts getting people to think about what their tax dollars are doing, and what those dollars are being spent on in our name, maybe (just maybe) we can bring some conscience and sensibility to world armaments, a subject that has for far too long simply slipped public notice. No, it won’t be easy. Yes, it will require patience and vigilance and a bunch of other virtues that Bill Bennett and other public moralizers don’t much care for. But is it worth no effort at all?

  17. Naja pallida says:

    I always find it funny that there’s always money for another war, but finding money to build a school, or pave a road… well, we’ll have to hold a bake sale or something.

  18. Monoceros Forth says:

    Thanks. (You’re one of my favorites on this site, by the way, don’t get me wrong.) I think we agree in spirit that bombarding Vietnam with herbicides really is a form of chemical warfare; honestly the whole idea seems like utter lunacy to me in retrospect, leaving aside any question of the toxicity of the herbicides themselves. Crops, too, were targeted deliberately. How is that any different from burning a city to the ground and salting the earth?

  19. Dan In Houston says:

    If we or another country were to destroy ALL of our chemical weapons, How quickly could they be manufactured again? This will unfortunately be an exercize in futility.

  20. BeccaM says:

    …and coming up with the money to use up those weapons.

    They’ve already said it’s no big deal if we go to war in Syria, the money is “already there.” Well, that money could then be re-purposed to destroying chemical weapons. What’s lacking is the will and desire to do it.

  21. cole3244 says:

    we agree, i think.

  22. cole3244 says:

    don’t ask people to take off their rose colored glasses they won’t like what they see.

  23. GaiusPublius says:

    Yes, this is my [??] insertion. Thanks for the clarification. Much appreciated.

    I agree that even without the contamination there would likely have been adverse human consequences, since as you imply, nothing is “safe as mother’s milk” for everything but the target. Thanks!


  24. Naja pallida says:

    We have no problem coming up with the money to make more of these weapons, if we just turned around and put that money into getting rid of them instead, it would be a good start.

  25. caphillprof says:

    Why not start with chemical weapons?

  26. caphillprof says:

    The most important part is making sure that all actual chemical weapons are included in prohibited chemical weapons.

  27. Naja pallida says:

    Which country do you suppose has the largest chemical weapons stockpiles? Which country has sold/given the most chemical weapons to other nations? Which country has used and/or condoned their use in modern warfare the most? I’ll give you a couple hints: it’s all the same country, and it’s not Sweden.

  28. cole3244 says:

    why stop at chemical, destroy all wmd’s, then at least the chickenhawks won’t be able to bully and scare the electorate into war.

  29. ronbo says:

    From your lips to a supportive world.

  30. Bill_Perdue says:

    There are ways to get money, but only if you’re deserving.

    “In a story that sheds new light on the extent of the country’s financial crisis, Bloomberg Markets magazine reported today that the Federal Reserve lent trillions of dollars to beleaguered financial institutions, with $1.2 trillion going out on just one day in 2008. Bloomberg Markets said it went over 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and central bank records of more than 21,000 transactions. … . And the Fed fought to keep the details of the loans, which totaled $7.77 trillion, secret long after.”

  31. Monoceros Forth says:

    How expensive can it possibly be? The chemical processes needed to detoxify such things as sulfur mustard or the phosphonate nerve gases are not particularly difficult. I suppose that the big problem, though, might be handling the materials in a safe way in the first place.

  32. Bill_Perdue says:

    It’s more than time and the place to start is with aggressor nations like the United States and the zionist colony in Palestine.

  33. Monoceros Forth says:

    Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of the use of contaminated batches [??] of the compound.

    Gaius, are the question marks your addition? The statement seems a sensible one. The really toxic component of Agent Orange is widely accepted to be 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, which got there as follows: the chief component of the defoliant was the herbicide 2,4,5-T or 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (or rather salts and esters thereof), made by reaction of chloracetic acid with 2,4,5-trichlorophenol, itself made by nucleophilic substitution of a chlorine atom from 1,2,4,5-tetrachlorobenzene by sodium hydroxide. During this latter reaction a second nucleophilic substitution is possible, with two molecules of 2,4,5-trichlorophenol displacing chlorine from each other, producing the dioxin contaminant to a degree that is heavily dependent on reaction conditions. Even with the best chemical engineering procedures there’s always some variation in composition of the products from batch to batch, which is why commercial chemicals are always supplied with a lot number, and if the manufacturing process is sloppy and poorly controlled (as in Seveso in 1976) then, well!

    Presumably 2,4,5-T completely free from the dioxin contaminant would have been much less nasty–although no organochlorine compound is ever entirely free from nastiness–and at any rate I’m doubtful that the side-reaction can ever be completely suppressed. Destroying entire forests by carpet-bombing a country with herbicides is madness anyway even if the stuff were safe as mother’s milk for anything except the plants.

  34. emjayay says:

    I believe that getting rid of chemical weapons is really expensive. Maybe that’s the main reason for it taking until 2023. Probably all Congress has to do is come up with a bunch of money. Good luck with that….

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