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Will strikes in Syria stop chemical weapons production?

Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons last week spurred strikes by the U.S. and its allies in the war-torn country this weekend. But what effect did the latest military action have on the country's weapons cache, and will it stop Syria from targeting civilians in opposition-held areas? Douglas Ollivant, senior vice president at Mantid International, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Here to help us break down the details of the military operation itself is Douglas Ollivant, senior vice president of the global consulting firm Mantid International and a retired Army officer who served at the National Security Council in both the Bush and Obama administrations. How significant was this attack last night?

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    Well, significant is a loaded term. It was significant in that it did allow the administration to maintain its red line on the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons. They’ve repeatedly warned the regime and they were able to reinforce this very narrow question. Now if you’re looking for ripple into some of the larger questions in Syria about the status of the Assad regime or what’s going on with ISIS or the expansion of Iranian influence, it should have almost no effect on any of those questions.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know yesterday, speaking of chemical weapons, there was a point where Defense Secretary Mattis was asked about which specific chemicals were used in this attack and I think the U.S. government says that they know chlorine was but they don’t know the other one and it’s still kind of an open question for them or at least not one that they’re willing to share with the public. Does that mean our red line has moved and that we would respond to a chlorine gas attack?

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    Well it appears so or they do as you ended, they do know that there were other chemicals used here and they’re not prepared to talk about that in an open forum.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right. How about the military, has come out and said that we have degraded their ability to produce and distribute chemical weapons this morning and last night but at the same time they also said that we didn’t go after all of the possible targets. They tried to minimize targets that were perhaps located in civilian areas or would have greater civilian casualties. So is there a chance then that the Syrian government still has several facilities that could produce or distribute chemical weapons?

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    Well it’s very conceivable. Chemical weapons are not that hard to produce. Most of this technology is dual use, the things that you use for ordinary petrochemicals or fertilizers and so on can be repurposed to make these chemical weapons so they’re not that difficult to produce. And they could be done at a number of sites.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Does this end up pushing the United States into having a military response if and when there are ever any chemical weapons used in Syria? If this is the red line and if this is how we are going to prosecute it we seem to have set precedent.

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    It certainly seems that way and the use of the word ‘sustained’ that President Trump used, that there would be sustained attacks, certainly seemed to imply that were there to be another use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, that that would cause a another retaliatory attack. So it appears the intent is to impress on the Assad regime that there will be a tit for tat, if you use chemical weapons you can expect this type of a response that then changes the calculus of the regime.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    I hate to ask this question but this doesn’t seem to impact all the conventional weapons that the Syrian government and the Russian government are using against civilians. I mean we seem to have drawn the line at chemical weapons but there are still people being killed on a fairly regular basis in this civil war.

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    That’s right. The the question at hand is this very narrow question about weapons of mass destruction, which are defined as nuclear or chemical or biological weapons when we mass all three of those together. So we’re enforcing a red line. The United States and its allies are enforcing a red line of the, on the use of these weapons. But if someone is using conventional weapons to a very catastrophic effect, that is, lamentably, not something that’s being enforced right now.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Doug Ollivant thanks so much.

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    My pleasure.

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