Security Council must ensure destruction of chemical weapons
Use of nerve agent in quiet English city on former spy and the diplomatic row with Moscow underlines the need to get rid of deadly stockpiles
The commotion over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter with a military-grade chemical on the streets of the quiet English city of Salisbury is understandable. It is the first known use of the nerve agent Novichok, determined to be several times deadlier than sarin or VX.
Moscow has denied British accusations of involvement, but there is no more likely culprit or origin. That the toxin is banned by international agreement puts the onus on the United Nations Security Council to ensure that the source is found and all traces destroyed.
Chemical weapons have been shunned since their use in the first world war; the horrific manner in which victims died and the torturous lifelong after-effects on survivors convinced militaries of their barbarity.
A treaty banning their use, but not production or stockpiling, was signed by the leading powers of the time in 1925, followed by the chemical weapons convention in 1993, which outlawed them under all circumstances.
Whenever the laws have been flouted, as recently during raids in Syria by Syrian-piloted Russian aircraft or with the killing of the elder brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Kuala Lumpur, there is rightly widespread international condemnation.
Britain has not publicly given evidence of Russian involvement beyond contending Novichok was developed by the former Soviet Union for use against the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and double agent Sergei Skripal being labelled a traitor by Moscow and therefore deserving of being killed.
It has been joined by fellow Nato members the United States, France and Germany in criticising Moscow.
British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 diplomats, the halt of high-level contacts and the non-attendance of officials and members of the royal family at the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament, being hosted by Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has described the response as unacceptable provocation and promised to also kick out envoys, while seeking samples of the poison to facilitate cooperation in an investigation.
Britain’s reaction has not worried President Vladimir Putin, who is certain to win re-election in polls tomorrow and whose tough stand against perceived victimisation by the West through sanctions over Ukraine and allegations of trying to derail democracy have shored up support at home and among admirers abroad.
But the use of so dangerous a chemical among civilians is not a matter to be brushed aside or turned to for political gain. It has to be taken up by the Security Council, of which Britain and Russia are permanent members.
There has to be cooperation and a thorough investigation to ensure that all stockpiles are destroyed so that it can never be used again.