Today, Glasgow University will hold a roundtable on Syria during which scholars of politics, law, and ethics will debate the question that has dominated headlines in recent days:
what responsibility or right, if any, does the world have to intervene?
While urgent and timely, there is another key question, however, that has so far gone overlooked in the global debate about Syria's use of chemical weapons: should our outrage be reserved for only one kind of weapon and not for others which often cause more causalities?
Even though the war in Syria has been raging for the past two years, much of the global outrage we now see has erupted only with the reports about Basar al Assad's Government attacking civilians with chemical weapons.
Arguably, the past two long years of war have not provoked the same level of indignation as we are seeing from world leaders and the public.
Why is it only now, with the use of chemical weapons - and not the use of "conventional" bombs and guns - that the US and UK governments have begun seriously debated intervening? The conflict has not necessarily taken a turn for the worse with the recent poison gas revelations.
By many accounts, more than 100,000 people had been killed in the conflict before the chemical weapons attack, which itself is reported to have killed about 1400 people. While indeed horrific, chemical weapons are not necessarily more deadly than "regular" bombs and guns.
So why has world outrage largely been reserved until now?
It mainly has to do with the ultimately arbitrary categories within which we place different types of weapons. Weapons of mass destruction (usually considered to be nuclear, chemical, and biological arms) are typically separated from conventional guns and explosives. WMD are often viewed as more threatening than conventional weapons because of perceptions rather than objective criteria. In this sense, WMD is not a neutral concept, but a political one. This again raises the question: why are chemical weapons viewed as especially heinous while conventional weapons often cause much more mass destruction?
Why aren't the conventional bombs that have killed thousands in Syria over the past two years put into a special category that prompts serious debate about a potential international response?
This is not to suggest that deaths by conventional bombs are more or less deserving of attention than deaths by "unconventional" weapons of mass destruction.
Nor is it to suggest that none of the weapons typically considered to be WMD does not deserve the label. We only need to remember the old newsreels of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to agree that nuclear weapons truly inflict mass destruction.
And, although biological weapons have never been used on a mass scale in the modern era, their potential to unleash contagious catastrophe is clear.
Rather, what should factor into the current debate is a recognition that the use of a particular weapon in warfare is not an objective tripwire which automatically prompts a serious international debate.
Consequently, the debate about Syria should include a more thorough probing of the terms upon which the decision to intervene (or not) will be made.
In the future, when weapons of mass destruction will likely be used again, public debate about intervention would benefit from a more critical understanding of the ultimately fuzzy concepts over which we go to war.
This may lead to a realisation that outrage over violence against civilians should be uncoupled from the (to date) too-often focus on "weapons of mass destruction" that typically cause much fewer casualties than the fearsome "conventional" weapons that inflict much more mass destruction.
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