By Tom Castle
Propaganda in this country and by the other imperialist powers has sought to portray the use of chemical weapons as a uniquely barbarous act. Nick Clegg speaking in the Commons debate where the government lost in its initial efforts to authorise air strikes claimed they had not been used in a hundred years. More circumspectly, Foreign Secretary William Hague claimed they had not been used in this century.
Both are completely wrong and in trying to create a pretext for attacking Syria attempt to hide the role that the imperialist powers themselves have played in the use of chemical weapons. Chemical weapons are created by industrial processes. The most advanced industrialised countries, until recently solely the imperialist powers, have access to the most sophisticated chemical weapons, either for their own use or for sale to the reliable allies.
Recent well known examples of chemical weapons use are when the Israeli armed forces used white phosphorus in its attack on Gaza in 2008/9. There were media reports NATO used the same material, which burns human skin, in its operation to overthrow Gaddafi in 2011 and the US used it in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon admitted the use of white phosphorus when US forces assaulted Fallujah (Iraq) in 2004 which left tens of thousands of civilians dead. This was done in co-operation with other Western forces, including Britain and France.
In the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, industrial plants were targeted which released poisonous chemical clouds into the atmosphere. The same tactic was used when the US bombed Iraqi chemical plants in 1998, and previously when bombing Iraq in both 1992 and 1993, which gave rise to a series of claims (many of them successful) for compensation by US armed services personnel for the effects of ‘Gulf War Syndrome’.
Saddam Hussein gassed the population of Halabja while he was a US and Western ally in 1988, killing approximately 5,000 Kurds. Previously, with full US support he had killed approximately 100,000 Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war in 1984, using mustard and nerve gas.
The US had itself previously used Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam and South-East Asia killing hundreds of thousands in its failed attempt to prop up its client the military dictatorship of South Vietnam. Both China and North Korea criticised the US use of chemical and biological weapons in the Korean War. Japan used them in its invasion of China in the 1930s.
Winston Churchill was a strong advocate of using chemical weapons, he proposed using them on a large scale against the Arab anti-colonial uprisings after the first world war, following their extensive use on all sides in that inter-imperialist war. British forces used them against the Red Army in 1919 when Western forces were trying to overturn the Russian revolution.
In the current Syria crisis, Russian President Putin argues that there is no logic to Assad’s use of chemical weapons as his forces were advancing with conventional means. Equally, there is no truth in the Western powers’ claim to prevent the use of chemical weapons through a bombing campaign. As the pro-intervention Times newspaper argues, destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles through explosion is virtually impossible, it only leads to dispersal.
According to the BBC, if the US does target Syrian chemical weapons stores the bombs it might use, are ‘CrashPAD’ and ‘Passive Attack Weapons’. The former fires shrapnel into chemical containers and then has a follow-up blast of white phosphorus, which is itself a chemical weapon! That would be rank hypocrisy – western imperialist powers claiming to save Syria from chemical weapons, by using chemical weapons against Syrians.