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Idea of the Day: How the United States Should Respond to the Assad Regime’s Likely Chemical-Weapons Use

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, currently traveling in the Middle East, has confirmed British, French, and Israeli government reports that the Assad regime in Syria has likely used a sarin nerve agent against opposition forces. In letters to Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), the Obama administration said that while U.S. intelligence agencies “cannot confirm how the [sarin] exposure occurred and under what conditions,” the United States “does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria.” This would mark the first use of chemical weapons since the signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993—signed by all but six member states, one of which was Syria—and the first use by a state since Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons and nerve agents against Iran and his own people in the 1980s.

At the same time, Syria’s civil war continues. More than 70,000 Syrians have died in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that began in March 2011, and 1.3 million have fled their homes and country. Neither the Assad regime nor a fractured and disorganized opposition are capable of defeating one another on the battlefield, and no political settlement is on the horizon. Syria itself appears to be heading toward a de facto partition between areas held by the Assad regime and those held by various rebel groups.

Together, the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and the regional strain of the refugee crisis call for additional actions from the United States, its regional partners and allies, and the international community as a whole.

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This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

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