By Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley.October 4, 2013
As Secretary of State John Kerry challenged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hand over Syria’s chemical weapons in early September, articles published in the Washington Post and National Interest argued that the current focus on Syria’s chemical weapons is distracting the international community from a much deadlier threat: Syria’s biological weapons. The sources for the Washington Post article (one of whom also happens to be a co-author of the National Interest piece) warn that Assad’s regime could use its biological weapons in retaliation against Western forces or its own population.
Both articles assert that Syria has maintained a dormant program since the country last engaged in biological weapons developments in the 1970s and 1980s and could easily reactivate its program to produce, on short notice, the stockpile of agents required to retaliate against its enemies. This threat is real, the argument goes, because Syria could tap into its pharmaceutical and agricultural industries to support the effort. Finally, the articles warn that Syria might have retained a strain of smallpox from a 1972 outbreak, which could be used to develop a devastating biological weapon.
These two articles provide no tangible evidence to support their claims. More important, their speculations contradict extant empirical evidence on the difficulty of achieving the level of biological weapons capability that the articles claim Syria maintains or could reestablish. To avoid falling prey to the same biological weapons hysteria that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it is important to look carefully at such claims. Close examination shows them to be exaggerated, at best… MORE