Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Syria doesn't matter, but chemical warfare does

Suppose this whole drama in the news is a fabrication. Or at least that the use of chemical weapons is a fabrication. If so, then none of it really matters, Syria will still be in more or less the same state as it was a month ago. Even if Trump doesn't uncover the fabrication, it seems unlikely he would authorize a troops-on-ground war with the Syrian government. Tensions with Russia would increase, probably, but I also think war with Russia is unlikely at the moment. (If I'm wrong, I'll likely be dead, so nyah.)

Suppose the chemical attacks were ordered by Assad. This doesn't mean Assad must go, but the rest of the world (not just the US) must respond. Chemical warfare cannot be allowed to escalate.

Suppose the attacks were ordered by US state department employees, or Turkey, or some other government. This doesn't mean those employees or countries must go, but the rest of the world (not just the US) must, again, respond. Why not in the same manner?

And lastly, suppose the attacks were done by ISIS or other rebels. Here, they must go, but that was the case last month. The response is the same. Perhaps in this special case it can be an increased response -- we're already bombing them a lot, but use of chemical weapons might justify a more serious attempt at ending them. More bombs? Maybe going after Islam instead, despite the multitudes of peaceful Muslims? Bombing Mecca might be a start to that. Or maybe we go with the voices of those who want us out of that area's conflicts entirely and only focus on the relevant detail of chemical weapon use, and use the same response as another case.

What should be the nature of the response? What sorts of responses would be practically useful?

Assad is incapable of rule. This isn't so much his own incompetence, it's just really hard to maintain your rule when local terrorists funded by western powers want you gone, and those same western powers occasionally bomb you. With such instability, outside perhaps a few key areas a random citizen of Syria cannot rely on Assad's justice and rule to maintain a safe and orderly society. I can be legitimately concerned with the US government exercising its sovereignty over me, because they do in fact rule always and everywhere, even if selectively. The same cannot be said about a random Syrian citizen.

Supposedly all chemical weapons were destroyed or transferred out of Syria years ago, with Russia's help. It doesn't really matter whether that's true or not. Let's continue with the assumption that some were used, regardless of how they got there.

How did it get delivered? Maybe by planes, in which case crippling Assad's air force is a fine way to stop that short term, whether he ordered it or not, whether we can be certain his planes did it or not. It's a practical response. If he is innocent, oops, we'll make up for it later with money or by using our own air force and anti-aircraft tech for his country's defense. (Or rather, the Russians will.) If he is guilty, or if just the airbase is, it stops further such deliveries.

If he is innocent, it might not stop further deliveries, but it will make it even harder to pin them on Assad. Short term, the true parties can't continue using the same cover of "Assad is doing it, help us".

How else might it have been delivered? Perhaps they were already there, for some reason unaccounted for, or perhaps brought in by insurgents somehow, and in a routine carpet bombing they went off, or were deliberately set off by insurgents. It's all possible. How could such a similar event be stopped again?

This goes into what the response must be longer term, regardless of which supposition you want to believe, including the total fabrication case, though in that one there's less urgency.

The answer: sensors. Sensors everywhere. At least in Syria, since it's probably not practical to get the US and Russia and China to agree to have sensors everywhere in their countries.

Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The agreement includes provisions for some sensors and inspections, declaration requirements, facility requirements, and so on, all as part of verification. In Syria's case a UN resolution even specified the "immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites in the Syrian Arab Republic". It is all interesting reading.

Supposing again that Syria is responsible, this indicates a failure in the verification mechanisms of the CWC and the UN resolutions. What if it had been a new chemical agent instead of an existing one? Why was this not detected sooner? That is a much more pressing question to me than the particular blame. There may be good reasons but it's an important question, more important than the ultimate blame.

But supposing they were brought in and stored, or were stored and forgotten about or lied about, or were stored temporarily at an air base before being deployed, they should have been detected after the point they came in range of population centers for storage but not yet for activation. A distributed network of sensors at warehouses, air bases, and distribution centers may have been sufficient. We don't even need fancy sensor systems like Smartdust (though they'd be best) we just need more of them, and Syria must at this point submit to their broad installation. It would also be good to have them detect biological weapons, because the separate Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention has totally inadequate measures for verification...

4.1.10 of Military Nanotechnology has other ideas, and even more ideas can be found all over the place in research. (For instance if you can find a copy of Rolling Text of a Protocol to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, or things that cite it.) But the key concept is using distributed sensors for co-operative verification of disarmament treaties and peace-keeping agreements. Reciprocal sensor monitoring is fine if you're trying to get e.g. the US and Russia to both agree to the same set of sensors and monitoring framework, but in Syria's case, they must submit to broad installation because Assad's rule is so unstable that even if it was an agreement he volunteered to, it is not practical for him to actually enforce it, whereas the might of the rest of the world could get the job done. The practical question is who will install the sensors and maintain them. It's a tougher one, but I'm sure many academics from the US and Europe have thought about it. For my own case it seems straightforward to start with saying that those doing the work don't necessarily have to know what it is they're doing and the rest falls into place.

The only realistic way forward is to detect and remove weapons before they can be used, by any party. It doesn't matter if they get used because someone or another ordered it, or if they were released unintentionally from production or storage warehouses. If a nation has an attack happen within its borders, the proper long-looking response should be forced installation of way more sensors than previously because that nation has shown itself incompetent at such monitoring and installation. This should be a global feeling of the limits of national sovereignty, if we're going to play that nations ought to follow some sort of international law determined by some collective will of nations. (Vattel’s Law of Nations is on my list I swear.)

In particular the rest of the world needs to react to this sort of thing, and not just through the UN. The US isn't very helpful at advancing verification protocols because it doesn't really want to be on the receiving end, neither did the Soviet Union (see and presumably neither would Russia or China, but it'd go a long way to just monitor the problem-zones of the world, forcefully if necessary.

Letting chemical and biological weapons get out of hand only opens the door for future chemical, biological, and later nanotech weapons to also get out of hand, and those will be much, much worse. That's the simple reason why chemical warfare matters so much and why responses to any usage (the casualties in this case are insignificant) must be severe.

Posted on 2017-04-08 by Jach

Tags: government, nanotech


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