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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

2 Americans wanted over Ghosn's escape handed to Japanese authorities

Former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn during a news conference in Jounieh, Lebanon, last September. Photo: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Two Americans accused of helping former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn flee Japan in a box in 2019 were handed over to Japanese custody Monday, their lawyer said.

Why it matters: The extradition of Michael Taylor, 60, a private security specialist and former Green Beret, and his son Peter Maxwell Taylor, 27, ends a months-long fight to remain in the U.S.

Rep. Rice demands Cuomo resign after 3rd woman accuses him of misconduct

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a February news conference in New York City. Photo: Seth Wenig/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) on Monday evening called for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to resign, after a third woman accused him of inappropriate behavior.

Driving the news: Anna Ruch, a former member of the Obama administration and the 2020 Biden campaign, told the New York Times Monday that Cuomo asked to kiss her at a New York City wedding reception in September 2019.

Scoop: Inside the GOP's plan to retake the House

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Republicans will reclaim their majority in 2022 by offering candidates who are women, minorities or veterans, a memo obtained by Axios says.

Why it matters: The document, drafted by a super PAC blessed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, names top Democrats to target — Jared Golden of Maine, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and Ron Kind of Wisconsin — and the type of Republican candidates to beat them.