By Rajaram Suresh:
Almost 70 years on, Hiroshima and Nagasaki still stand testimony to the zeniths of brutality that mankind has sustained due to war. The horrors of nuclear bombing are fading into the background, but for all the wrong reasons. Newer and more ‘effective’ methods of torture and destruction have evolved along with mankind and loom large over the earth, hanging like a dagger above every civilian’s neck. Chemical and biological warfare have become the norm of the day, leading to bloodless incisions on the human populace. All this while, the general fear was largely attributed to just the very action of these weapons, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, for handling their disposal is much trickier than restricting their very action.
A Chemical Weapon is defined as anything that is filled with chemicals, and is capable of inflicting mass destruction to human life. Some examples are Phosgene, Lewisite and Nitrogen Mustard. There are also nerve, blood and choking agents like Sarin, Hydrogen cyanide, and Diphosgene respectively, which are targeted at different systems of the body, bringing instant death to its subjects. Under the Chemical Weapons Conventions, brought to action in 1993 was a legally binding world-wide ban on its production, stockpiling and use. Despite the ban, large arsenals of chemical weaponry continue to exist. Though they are usually only a precaution against an aggressor, their very existence is disturbing and threatening to the environment and mankind.
Chemical weaponry is one of the more recent additions to the list of ‘easier’ ways to settle disputes. The bloodless brutality reached new heights when a gas attack outside Damascus claimed the lives of hundreds of children and adults alike on August 21, 2013. Children’s bodies stacked outside hospitals and on the streets brought tears to many eyes. There was suggestive evidence that allegedly tied the attack down to the Syrian government, following which the Syrian president Bashar Al- Assad agreed to give up the chemical weapons to any country that is willing to pay for them. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t met with an enthusiastic response, primarily because of their disposal hazards. Earlier, the chemical weapons used to be destroyed in open fields and in unpopulated stretches of land, which severely threatened the environmental balance. Such blatant exposure to environment while disposal, albeit currently banned, continues to be prevalent in some areas.
The estimated cost of disposal of chemical stockpile of Syria exceeds $1 billion and the proceedings would take at least a year to kick-start. The fact that robots are being deployed to dismantle chemical weapons in USA suggests how dangerous chemical waste could prove to be. Disposal of chemical weapons in USA is expected to cost the country $35 billion and estimated to last till 2023, even though the Congress commissioned it about 40 years ago. The thought of estimating the stockpile of chemical weaponry in each country is very disturbing indeed. We currently stare down at a ‘Catch-22’ situation, where moving to either side of the line requires some very bitter decisions to be taken. While governments should do anything possible in their ambit to avoid chemical warfare, the disposal of the weapons seems to be a bigger challenge and issue than preventing the war itself.
While there are sections of mankind worrying about wildlife conservation and global warming, heads must turn towards this blatant threat to humankind, right out in the open, claiming thousands of lives in spasmodic bursts that rattle us violently. Every government, at some level, must have an underlying trust towards its counterparts regarding the use of chemical weapons. That there are neutral organizations like the UN which deal severely with regard to breach of such protocols only reinforces this fact. Once we are past the roadblock of turning in of chemical weaponry, the disposal needs to be planned at the earliest and in strict accordance with the guidelines that are already in place. Ironically, the very many ways to annihilate mankind from the face of this planet were devised by none other than us. Atrocities committed by these weapons can never be fully set right. The least we can do at this point is to mar any impeding threat to the environment and mankind through these weapons. The secret lies in taking one step at a time, and set out to decommission them, and most importantly, do so, safely.