Syria and the chemical weapons taboo

Exploiting the forbidden

By Michelle Bentley

Syria and the chemical weapons taboo


  • Hardcover
  • Paperback

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-0474-8
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £16.99 (incl. VAT)
  • Published Date: September 2016
  • BIC Category: POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / Arms Control, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Security (National & International), POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General, Society & social sciences / Politics & government, International Relations, Warfare & defence, Politics & government, Society & social sciences / Diplomacy, Society & social sciences / International relations, International relations, Diplomacy
  • Series: New Approaches to Conflict Analysis


This book analyses the Syria crisis and the role of chemical weapons in relation to US foreign policy. The Syrian government's use of such weapons and their subsequent elimination has dominated the US response to the conflict, where these are viewed as particularly horrific arms - a repulsion known as the chemical taboo. On the surface, this would seem to be an appropriate reaction: these are nasty weapons and eradicating them would ostensibly comprise a 'good' move. But this book reveals two new aspects of the taboo that challenge this prevailing view. First, actors use the taboo strategically to advance their own self-interested policy objectives. Second, that applying the taboo to Syria has actually exacerbated the crisis. As such, this book not only provides a timely analysis of Syria, but also a major and original rethink of the chemical taboo, as well as international norms more widely.


'A provocative and original contribution to the fields of international relations, constructivism, security studies, civil war studies, US foreign policy and especially the study of norms in IR. I believe that the book will be a landmark study that will add greatly to the existing literature and will be discussed and debated for some time.'
Richard Jackson, Deputy Director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS), University of Otago


1. The chemical weapons taboo
Part I: A strategic taboo
2. Setting the redline
3. Ghouta and ideological innovation
4. Obama's taboo
Part II: A failed taboo
5. Chemical weapons and false hierarchies
6. Escalating the crisis


Michelle Bentley is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London

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