Britain denies selling "nerve gas chemicals" to Syria after civil war began


Given that the secretary of the relevant department, Vince Cable, was able to say (one presumes with a straight face): “The UK Government operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world." I think that it’s time for the international community to look into potential stockpiling and deployment of botulism toxins by Mr. Cable. There simply isn’t any other explanation for being able to do that.

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Actually the linked article ( doesn’t say anything about the chemicals not being able to be used to make Sarin (as the summary claims), it simply says they were not shipped because the license was revoked before it happened.

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Buuuut we do still sell chemical weapons to other countries?

Just not Syria, that would be terrible.

Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

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Sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride are hardly “chemical weapons”.

I mean, they can probably be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons, but they are used for so many other things (toothpaste and water fluoridation, for instance) that having an international market in them is definitely a good idea.

They’re not even on any of the CWC lists of chemical weapons precursors.

I would agree that the amount of sheer dithering in terms of one-would-hope-have-their-stuff-together UK and EU arms-export controls is more worrisome than the chemicals themselves. Fluoride salts of trivially common metals are pretty unscary compounds (though, if memory serves, you do need a fluorine atom from somewhere to make sarin, though you have plenty of options since fluorine isn’t picky about what it reacts with).

If their story were ‘this isn’t a story because sodium fluoride is what keeps your teeth pearly-white FFS; and incidentally most of the developing world will sell you brutally nasty organophosphate pesticides by the ton, so trying to hunt down every last possible precursor is kind of a futile endeavor.’, I’d be less concerned. As it is, the story appears to be ‘Um, nothing is wrong because our prolonged process of bumbling ended up being irrelevant because the deal fell through on unrelated grounds.’ Which doesn’t fill one with confidence.

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I see… is the point here that it is irresponsible to send these components to someone that is likely to use them for chemical weaponry (was it forseeable), or could the weapons have been MacGyvered together after acquiring the ingredients from any source regardless?

But it is very rigorous. They rigorously make sure buyers and sellers can go about their business, undisturbed. Nothing of that red tape stuff here, money must be free to flow!

The latter. This is a non-story by the Daily Fail.

You can make chemical weapons out of almost anything (we’re talking about fluoride, aka the main ingredient of toothpaste!), given the right expertise and delivery methods (which undoubtedly Syrian forces have had all along, and likely rebels too). Which is why, as soon as embargoes kick in, brokers and manufacturers of chemical substances start having huge headaches and eventually give up and just stop selling anything to the embargoed… at least not directly – unscrupulous companies need just a little roundtrip through some weird but fairly peaceful country, greasing the right hands to make stuff “disappear” while sitting in a warehouse somewhere, only to reappear as part of some other unsuspicious cargo. Occasionally our fine secret services stumble on one of these unscrupulous individuals and throw him in jail with great fanfare, but like with all things illegal, for one they catch there are probably a dozen still happily trading.

Going on about whether we US/UK/Euro citizens can take the moral high ground on chemical weapons is just pointless anyway: we (and Soviets) sold them the technology long ago, and once you do that, the cat is out of the bag. Unlike nuclear weapons, which are very difficult to produce and deliver, chemical ones are usually just slightly-repurposed conventional munitions. We invented them more than 100 years ago, without computers or high-precision tools, so they can’t be that hard to make.

Sodium fluoride can be used to make Sarin, but considering that you can obtain a suitable fluoride from just about any fluoride salt it doesn’t seem like monitoring this particular compound is a useful measure for controlling the spread of chemical weapons. Which is why it’s not a precursor under the chemical weapons convention. Now, something like … that you’d want to monitor.

It doesn’t help that production of the main source mineral (fluorite/calcium fluoride of varying purities) is pretty well distributed around the world. The UK ranks surprisingly high given its size; but I’m guessing that you could find a few countries on that list who would take your money more or less regardless of who you are.

Okay, but neither the article nor the summary notes that point

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