The Specter of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

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Nine years into the Syrian civil war, despite a series of international crises and two rounds of punitive military strikes by the United States, the international community still struggles to find ways to effectively curb the repeat use of chemical weapons in the conflict and hold those responsible for the use of proscribed weapons against civilian populations to account.

In years of painstaking work alongside our Syrian and international partners, our research team at GPPi has compiled the most comprehensive dataset on the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war available to date. Analysis of 349 confirmed incidents, combined with extensive data on the conventional war and original interviews, reveals the scale and strategic logic of the Syrian chemical weapons campaign.

We find that the Syrian military’s use of chemical weapons is closely intertwined – logistically, operationally and strategically – with its conventional campaign of indiscriminate violence against civilian populations. And that while chemical weapons are responsible for only a tiny minority of deaths throughout the war, their psychological impact can be the straw that breaks the backs of even the most well-entrenched opposition communities.

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