Why, in other words, do we ban chemical weapons, but not equally deadly weapons like machine guns that rip through bodies and barrel bombs that tear them apart?
One answer is that while gas attacks are terrifying, the weapon has proved to be militarily ineffective. After Ypres, the allies provided masks to their front-line troops, who stood in their trenches killing onrushing Germans as clouds of gas enveloped their legs. That was true even as both sides climbed the escalatory ladder, introducing increasingly lethal chemicals (phosgene and mustard gas), that were then matched by increasingly effective countermeasures. The weapon also proved difficult to control. In several well-documented instances, gasses deployed by front-line troops blew back onto their own trenches—giving a literalist tinge to the term “blowback,” now used to describe the unintended consequences of an intelligence operation.
Look, gas wasn't enough to break the stalemate on the World War I western front because of factors that chemical warfare could not overcome. A few machine guns surviving would still inflict massive casualties on the attacker. And logistics for mass armies advancing was tough to sustain. Command and control wasn't that good. And defensive reserves were usually close by. Indeed, eventually the front line trenches were just a trip wire with the main line to the rear. Too many troops on a small front made moving the front tough even with the more effective weapons pounding the enemy.
I've mentioned many times that chemical weapons are tough to use. And yes they are less effective at killing than other weapons.
But that does not mean gas isn't effective.
As the author writes but disregards until the very end of the article, gas attacks are terrifying. I've seen soldiers running from tear gas escaping from a "gas house" for training that leaked way more than expected. As troops ran to avoid the rolling cloud, I stayed where I was and put on my gas mask. Hey, I had it on my hip. But, of course, I knew it was just tear gas and not poison gas. Admittedly I stunk of tear gas after so I should have ran, too, I suppose.
And gas usage complicates the battlefield. Hit an enemy airbase with persistent chemicals and sortie rates plummet to clean up and operate in the lethal mess. Multiply that by hitting road intersections and logistics depots and bridges and headquarters.
Just the threat of chemical use requires vehicles and troops to button up. So vehicles slow down. More will roll into a ditch. Just using a screwdriver in full MOPP 4 is tough. And at least in my day, it was impossible to aim a rifle with the mask on. And there is no peripheral vision and hearing is impaired. And it is hot in the chemical suit! So you can die from non-chemical means more easily trying to survive and fight in a chemical environment even if no gas makes it past your filter or none is absorbed through your skin through a rip in the suit you didn't notice.
Oh, and when I was in uniform, we spent a lot of training time on chemical warfare survival. That's time not spent on other military training.
Yes, well-trained troops can push down the fear. But even without panic, there is a price to pay to survive gas.
And how well trained and equipped are the civilian targets of Assad's chemical strikes?
Seriously, if chemical weapons weren't effective, there would have been no need to ban them. There is no ban on battleships. No ban on crossbows. No ban on propeller fighter aircraft. Nobody would waste their money and time training on chemical weapons any more than a modern soldier knows how to use a crossbow.
As for the dismissal of this argument by citing the Army's eagerness to get rid of battlefield nukes even though they would have been useful against the Soviets, is it really hard to understand why the Army would want to ban a class of weapon that the Soviets would have used to nuke our units, too?
And the willingness of Army officers to avoid undermining their civilian leaders who agreed to ban landmines is hardly relevant because in any case by the time that ban was imposed our Army was likely to be on offense so banning mines helped us! And we made an exception for the one place we would need them--in South Korea along the DMZ!
Fear is a weapon. Chemical warfare is a cloud of fear. That is effective if you have lots of chemical weapons and an enemy doesn't.