The Erosion of the International Ban on Chemical Weapons: The Khan Shaykhun Attack Case—Challenges and Perspectives for the Chemical Weapons Convention

  • Maurizio MartelliniEmail author
  • Ralf Trapp
Conference paper


The Sarin attack of 4 April 2017 on Khan Shaykhun signals a lowering of the threshold against the use of chemical weapons in asymmetric warfare and a weakening of the norm against the use of chemical weapons. This “reflection paper” explores some of the difficulties that investigations of such incidents face, in particular when it comes to attributing responsibility. It highlights the limits inherent in the compliance mechanisms of international treaty regimes such as the Chemical Weapons Convention, as well as of export control regimes and UN sanctions, and argues instead in favor of soft measures and/or innovative restrain mechanisms in the form of a “catch-all regime” building on a partnership of responsible governments, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and other relevant players. The paper suggests an informal discourse between government experts, experts from industry, and competent academic/nongovernmental organizations, to discuss what types of “soft restraint” measures might be acceptable and could actually work.


Chemical weapons Prohibition of use Prevention Nonproliferation Chemical Weapons Convention Syria 



One of the authors (M. Martellini) would like to acknowledge the exchange of ideas with John Walker, Milton Leitenberg, Rod Barton, and Reid Kirby.


The ideas and contents of this article are only the views of the authors and not of the organizers or institutions of SICC2017.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Landau Network Centro VoltaComoItaly
  2. 2.Insubria Center on International SecurityComoItaly
  3. 3.ChessenazFrance

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