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CBW Events -- December 2017 selections

Each month, entries for a few anniversaries of notable CBW Events are posted. All will appear in the relevant final versions of the chronologies.

5 years ago | 15 years ago | 20 years ago | 35 years ago | 65 years ago

5 years ago:

3 December 2012     US President Barack Obama says in a speech to the National War College (part of the National Defense University): "I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there where be consequences, and you will be held accountable".[1] [Note: these are similar words to those used by Obama in response to the Makdissi comment on 23 July.]
     The following month, the New York Times publishes an article that puts the timing of this speech into a broader context, saying: "In the last days of November, Israel's top military commanders called the Pentagon to discuss troubling intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery: Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes". The article continues: "In briefings, administration officials were told that if Syria's increasingly desperate president, Bashar al-Assad, ordered the weapons to be used, they could be airborne in less than two hours — too fast for the United States to act, in all likelihood". The article describes "a remarkable show of international cooperation" that included the combination of "a public warning by Mr. Obama and more sharply worded private messages sent to the Syrian leader and his military commanders through Russia and others, including Iraq, Turkey and possibly Jordan" and that this "stopped the chemical mixing and the bomb preparation. A week later Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the worst fears were over".[2] [Note: Ehud Barak is in the Pentagon on 29 November, according to contemporary press reports.]
     [1] Barack Obama, President of the USA, as reported in: "Remarks by the President at the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Symposium, The National War College, Washington, D.C.", Press Release, Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, 3 December 2012; see also: Peter Finn and Anne Gearan, "Obama warns Syria amid rising concern over chemical weapons", Washington Post, 3 December 2012 and Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, "U.S. Sees Syria Prepping Chemical Weapons for Possible Attack", Wired, 3 December 2012.
     [2] Eric Schmitt and David E Sanger, "Hints of Syrian Chemical Push Set Off Global Effort to Stop It", New York Times, 8 January 2013.

4 December 2012     In London, during foreign affairs questions on the floor of the House of Commons, Foreign Secretary William Hague says: "I want to reiterate what President Obama has said—that any use of chemical or biological weapons would be even more abhorrent than anything we have seen so far. We have made it clear that this would draw a serious response from the international community. We have made that very clear to representatives of the Syrian regime and have said that we would seek to hold them responsible for such actions".[1]
     Some minutes later there is a further exchange on recent events in Syria. The Foreign Secretary is asked: "In view of heightened international anxiety about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, the United States has indicated that it is preparing contingency plans. Can the Foreign Secretary say whether the British Government's assessment of that potential threat has been heightened in recent days, and whether the United Kingdom is contributing, or has already contributed, to international contingency planning?" The Secretary of State responds: "Yes, our understanding of the threat has been heightened in recent days. We have seen some of the same evidence as the United States. I cannot give any more details, but I can say that we have already reacted diplomatically. We have expressed in no uncertain terms, directly to the Syrian regime, the gravity of any use of chemical weapons. In our view, as the Prime Minister has said before, that would require us to revisit our approach to Syria. I cannot, of course, discuss contingency plans in any detail, but we in the UK, including those in the Ministry of Defence, are always ready with a wide range of such plans".[2]
     [1] William Hague, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 4 December 2012, Oral Answers, Hansard (Commons), vol 554, c719, in response to a question from Mike Gapes MP.
     [2] William Hague, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 4 December 2012, Oral Answers, Hansard (Commons), vol 554, c721-22, in response to a question from Douglas Alexander MP.

6 December 2012     Syrian deputy foreign minister, Faisal Maqdad, is reported to state: "Syria stresses again, for the tenth, the hundredth time, that if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people. We would not commit suicide". His comments are said to be a translation of an interview on Lebanon's Al Manar television, described as the voice of Hezbollah. He is also reported to say: "In fact, we fear a conspiracy ... by the United States and some European states, which might have supplied such weapons to terrorist organizations in Syria, in order to claim later that Syria is the one that used these weapons" and: "We fear there is a conspiracy to provide a pretext for any subsequent interventions in Syria by these countries that are increasing pressure on Syria".[1]
     [1] Erika Solomon (from Beirut), Reuters, as in: "Syria calls chemical weapon reports pretext for intervention", Christian Science Monitor, 6 December 2012.


15 years ago:

24 December 2002     Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says that Israel is currently trying to verify reports that Saddam Hussein has smuggled chemical and biological weapons to Syria with a view to evading the UNMOVIC inspectors.[1] A spokesperson for the Syrian Foreign Ministry says in response to the allegation: "Sharon's allegations are baseless. Such allegations are aimed at diverting attention from the nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal in the possession of Israel. Israel with its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction poses a danger not only to the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon but also to the entire region and to international peace and security".[2]
     [1] Channel 2 TV (Jerusalem) from Jerusalem, 2000 hrs GMT, 24 December 2002, as translated from the Hebrew in BBC-WWM 26 December 2002, `Israeli Prime Minister says Iraq smuggles weapons to Syria'.
     [2] Syrian Arab Republic Radio (Damascus) from Damascus, 1215 hrs GMT 25 December 2002, as translated from the Arabic in BBC-WWM, "Spokesman dismisses Sharon's "allegations" that Iraq moved WMD to Syria".


20 years ago:

6 December 1997     Syrian Defence Minister Mustapha Talas is reported by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Ra'y al-Amm as saying: "How can we justify giving a free hand to Israel's research into strengthening and developing every means of mass destruction, while blockading Iraq on the pretext that it has some biological weapons. ... Syria and other Arab states have the right to develop the defensive weapons that they see appropriate to be able to confront hostile Israel".[1]
     [1] [No author listed] (from Kuwait City), "Israel's arsenal should face same restrictions as Iraq: Syria", Agence France Presse, 0925 hrs GMT 6 December 1997; [no author listed] (from Kuwait), SANA, as in: Al-Ba'th (Damascus), 7 December 1997, as translated from the Arabic in BBC-SWB, 10 December 1997.


35 years ago:

13 December 1982      The United Nations General Assembly adopts resolution 37/98D on the 1925 Geneva Protocol. The resolution generally follows the pattern of resolution 35/144C [see 12 December 1980] with the addition of language requesting the Secretary-General "with the assistance of qualified consultant experts, to devise procedures for the timely and efficient investigation of information concerning activities that may constitute a violation of the Geneva Protocol or the relevant rules of customary international law and to assemble and organize systematically documentation relating to the identification of signs and symptoms associated with the use of such agents as a means of facilitating such investigations and the medical treatment that may be required". Again, collection of evidence on-site shall be "with the consent of the countries concerned". The resolution makes no mention of any state by name.


65 years ago:

9 December 1952     In Washington, DC, the Executive Director of the Committee on Chemical Warfare sends a memorandum[1] to the Director of Administration in the office of the Secretary of Defense on the subject of "Use of Human Volunteers in Experimental Research". The memorandum reads:
     "1. The TS memorandum prepared for the Secretaries of the military departments, a copy of which was submitted to this office for comment, promulgates the recommendations of the Armed Forces Medical Policy Council. These were read to the Committee on Chemical Warfare at its meeting on 10 November 1952. A Committee recommendation on this question, developed independently of the AFMPC document, was reported to the Chairman, RDB, in CW 107/17. This goes a step or two beyond the AFMPC recommendation in calling for a system of rewards for volunteers, and for recognition of government liability in case of accident.
     "2. The whole need of the CW program for human volunteers, in the judgment of this Committee, cannot be met by an arrangement that allows acceptance of volunteers from personnel normally on duty at installations engaged in such research. For this purpose the permissive statement should be subject to the interpretation that uniformed volunteers could be assigned to temporary duty at the experimental installation for the purpose of engaging in the program as test subjects. This is the essence of the British system, which we are advised has worked quite well.
     "3. It is assumed that the question has been carefully considered whether this subject should be treated in a memoranda of this nature or in one for the files, to be divulged only to those agencies and individuals who are in need of this guidance."
     [1] Committee on Chemical Warfare memorandum, 9 December 1952 [electronic copy via National Security Archive website].