Free Syrian Army fighters are seen at Houla, near Homs, Syria.   Picture: REUTERS
Free Syrian Army fighters are seen at Houla, near Homs, Syria. Picture: REUTERS

WHAT can the US and its allies do about the threat posed by Bashar al-Assad’s stock of chemical and biological weapons? As the Syrian civil war enters its 20th month, the question is increasingly on the minds of senior government and security figures in the West.

There are many risks arising from the Syrian conflict. But the possibility that the conflict might lead Assad to use his weapons of mass destruction is a matter of growing alarm.

Most academic experts are confident that the Assad regime has developed one of the world’s largest stocks of chemical and possibly biological weapons.

US President Barack Obama is right to have reiterated this week that the use of weapons of mass destruction by Assad’s regime’s forces against the opposition would be a red line that triggered US military intervention.

That said, any US-led intervention to secure the weapons would be hugely difficult.

The challenges here are not just for the US. Russia, which has stood firmly by Assad, also has a responsibility to ensure the regime does not use them. Russia has a duty to help prevent the use of these weapons — a duty that trumps any residual loyalty the Kremlin may have to Syria’s murderous regime.

London, December 5