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British Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce talks with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley at a Security Council heaeing on April 10, 2018, about last week's chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

While last week’s horrific chemical weapons attack in Douma has seized the world’s attention, potentially pushing President Trump toward military action, Bashar al-Assad's regime has used chemical weapons more than 20 times since last year’s missile strike, and as many as eight times just since the beginning of 2018. So the question is: What comes after strikes?

The big picture: For Assad, the benefits of using these weapons have outweighed the costs. The U.S. and the international community must change that calculus through a range of economic, diplomatic and legal efforts, in addition to any military response. Otherwise, attacks will resume once the spotlight is gone.

Since the Khan Shaykhun attack last year, options to address these crimes have only gotten worse: Russia has obstructed any UN attempts to hold Assad accountable and deliberately ignored its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

But the U.S. and like-minded nations can still leverage a more robust response, nested within a larger strategy for pressing Assad (and his supporters) to end deliberate civilian targeting and negotiate a settlement to the war. Specific elements of the strategy might include:

  • Punitive strikes against Syrian aircraft to prevent future atrocities, ideally in combination with allies across Europe and the Middle East
  • Targeting remaining sites of Syrian chemical weapons research, development and production
  • Sanctioning Iran, Russia and North Korea for their support of Assad’s weapons programs
  • Multilateral negotiations on Syria’s future that hold Assad accountable for any future civilian targeting
  • Using the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons to initiate noncompliance proceedings and refer Syria to the Security Council

The bottom line: The U.S. and its partners should broaden the menu of response options to ensure that every civilian attack comes at a steep cost to the Assad regime. After seven years, with 500,000 dead and millions displaced, Syrian civilians deserve no less.

Rebecca Hersman is director of the Project on Nuclear Issues and senior adviser in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Go deeper: Read an extended take from Rebecca Hersman and Melissa Dalton at CSIS.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

6 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.

11 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.