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President Trump has suggested that the Redline issue on chemical weapons is, unlike his predecessor, not something he will allow to happen. I believe he means it.

I’m also hoping he will, in plain language, explain in no uncertain terms, to Assad and any other dictators thinking of using chemical weapons, that the Redline is very truly back in play.  I also hope he’ll spell out to Putin that adventurism, with no regard for the rule of law, or the UN Security Council, will no longer be tolerated.

When the international community didn’t act after the Redline was crossed on 21 Aug 2013 and up to 1500 people were killed by the deadly nerve agent Sarin in East Ghouta, the 100 year taboo over the use of chemical weapons was well and truly broken, possibly forever.  Chemical weapons are now the ‘norm’.

The defeat of East Aleppo is the case in point.  On 17 of the last 21 days of the siege before Christmas, the Regime dropped multiple chlorine barrel bombs which forced civilians out of underground shelters and into the open where they were shredded by mortars and artillery – this ultimately led to surrender after 4 years of opposition.

Putin needs Trump to ease sanctions before his economy completely tanks.  Other Western governments appear to be prepared to wait for that eventuality; Putin can’t afford this and I expect Trump knows that.  The Astana Talks appear to have come up with a ceasefire however imperfect.  Turkey needs a resolution in Syria, and want Assad, eventually, out of the way.  President Obama showed no inclination to do a deal here, but Trump might, and whatever he is, he is not naïve and will not, I judge, just acquiesce to Putin’s demands.

Whatever hopes or fears one has for a Trump presidency it’s possible to believe that Assad will understand all this, and realise he no longer has carte blanche to act in with impunity. He will also get the message that if Putin is sufficiency chastened by Trump, and sufficiently reliant on an end to the crippling economic sanctions the he will acquiesce to Trump on this and others matters.  This is the chance for the great ‘deal maker’ to show his real or fake spurs very soon, can he possibly resist this challenge?

Over the last 4 years I’ve been investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria  with the help of the CBRN Task Force of the medical charity UOSSM, which I helped establish.  I was stimulated to do this because the official bodies of the UN were unable to get into Syria because of the confines of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and I gauged CW would be used more and more if we continued to do ‘nothing’; and unfortunately they are.  On 29 April 2014 the Telegraph first published unequivocal evidence that Assad was using chemical weapons against his own people.  This evidence was confirmed by the UN in October 2016, 18 months later, but not until last week’s leaked report by Reuters has President Assad and his military commanders been directly accused of these atrocities.

Last year near Mosul, with the Iraqi Kurd Peshmerga forces, who I was training to deal with chemical attack from ISIS, I witnessed a chemical attack myself.  ISIS mortar teams fired 20x 122mm mortar bombs at our positions which contained chlorine, the original chemical weapon from the WWI.

ISIS saw how effective chlorine was against themselves in Syria and now use them regularly in Syria and Iraq, and no doubt will do so in the Western capitals when they can.   We must expect to see the same horrific paralysing psychological impact on civilians here and we should prepare the public for this rather than stick our heads in the sand as some on the peripheries would suggest.

I hope that the leaking of this report may at least prevent the future use of CW by the Regime against civilians in Syria.  But I am yet to hear any western leaders condemn the Regime on the basis of this report; there have been many heartfelt platitudes against CW use in Syria, which have been somewhat hollow and ignored after the invisible Redline of 21 Aug 13.

It is now time for Trump to replace bumptious rhetoric with demonstrable positive action if he is going to lead the world to a better place in the Middle East.

I hope the silver lining of the Trump presidency will be the thickening of the Redline, a control on Russian global military expansion, and a restating of the taboo on chemical weapons leading to a generally acceptable solution to the Syrian crisis.  It should also be made clear by the UN that those named in the report as responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria will appear in front of the International Criminal Court to answer for these crimes. As a veteran of the Balkan Wars it is gratifying to see those responsible for atrocities in the Kosovan and Bosnian wars now getting their just deserts. One day the war criminals in Syria may get theirs.


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