The United States and its allies may be headed for a war that they could have tried harder to prevent.

The failure since the 1970s to put more pressure on Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons, plus American support for Iraq even after it used chemical agents against Iran, have contributed to what the U.S. and British governments say is a chemical attack by President Bashar Assad against opposition forces near Damascus that has killed hundreds, chemical arms experts said.

While other adversaries of the U.S., such as Iran and Russia, have signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the development, stockpiling, transfer and use of chemical arms, Syria is among a handful of countries — including Egypt, North Korea, Somalia and Angola — that have not. Israel and Myanmar have signed the convention but not ratified it.