Global Agency Tasked With Destroying Syrian Chemical Weapons Wants Help From the Private Sector

Stuck with a stockpile and no place to put it, the Hague-based organization is looking to commercial firms to help put a dent in the destruction process.

A man participates in an exercise during the education of Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspectors at the German army Bundeswehr training area in southern Germany on Oct. 16.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
Nov. 22, 2013, 9:04 a.m.

The or­gan­iz­a­tion in charge of dis­mant­ling Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al-weapons pro­gram is rush­ing to find a coun­try will­ing to host the de­struc­tion of the Syr­i­an stock­pile.

Des­troy­ing the ar­sen­al, which in­cludes deadly mus­tard gas and the nerve agent sar­in, can’t safely be done on Syr­i­an soil rav­aged by con­tin­ued armed con­flict, ac­cord­ing to the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons, which the United Na­tions chose to over­see the pro­cess. The pur­suit has been an un­lucky one so far, with Al­bania last week re­ject­ing a U.S. re­quest to host de­struc­tion, lead­ing of­fi­cials to pon­der car­ry­ing out isol­ated de­struc­tion aboard ships at sea.

So, the chem­ic­al-weapons watch­dog group has turned its at­ten­tion from the “where” of it all, and is fo­cus­ing now on the “who.”

The agency, which won a No­bel Peace Prize last month, an­nounced Fri­day that it is in­vit­ing com­mer­cial chem­ic­al-dis­pos­al firms to bid on get­ting in­volved in the de­moli­tion pro­cess. The of­fer ex­tends to any private firm in the 190 na­tions party to the Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion, an arms-con­trol treaty ex­clud­ing only Egypt, North Korea, South Su­dan, and An­gola (Is­rael and My­an­mar have signed, but not yet rat­i­fied, the agree­ment).

OP­CW of­fi­cials say the firms would des­troy 18 types of chem­ic­als in the Syr­i­an ar­sen­al. Many are com­mon in­dus­tri­al sub­stances that pose a danger only when mixed to­geth­er to cre­ate oth­er, more harm­ful forms of chem­ic­als. Some can be safely rendered harm­less and des­troyed. OCPW set the price tag of des­troy­ing these chem­ic­al weapons between 35 mil­lion and 40 mil­lion euros, or $47 mil­lion to $54 mil­lion.

The agency did not in­dic­ate wheth­er mus­tard gas, sar­in, and oth­er leth­al chem­ic­als are in­cluded. Still, these chem­ic­als ac­count for about 62 per­cent of Syr­ia’s 1,300-ton stock­pile of nerve agents, which means big busi­ness for the private sec­tor. While na­tions them­selves may be hes­it­ant to get in­volved in de­struc­tion ef­forts, their private com­pan­ies may not.

But find­ing private firms to take over the de­struc­tion of some of Syr­ia’s stock­pile isn’t the prob­lem. Get­ting their em­ploy­ees in­to and out of the coun­try in the middle of a civil war, AP’s Mike Cord­er writes, will be a massive chal­lenge.

OP­CW con­firmed at the start of this month that in­spect­ors had rendered Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al-weapons fa­cil­it­ies “in­op­er­able.” High-risk chem­ic­al weapons are sched­uled to be des­troyed by next March, and the en­tire stock­pile by June.

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