Destroying Syria’s Chemical Arms Would Be Complex Undertaking

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Sept. 11, 2013, 9:02 a.m.

Were Syr­ia to agree give up its siz­able chem­ic­al ar­sen­al, des­troy­ing the weapons and veri­fy­ing that no trace ma­ter­i­als or mu­ni­tions re­main would be a highly com­plic­ated and dan­ger­ous un­der­tak­ing that likely would take years to fin­ish, the Los Angeles Times re­por­ted on Tues­day.

Bashar As­sad’s re­gime has said it is open to sur­ren­der­ing its chem­ic­al weapons to the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity in or­der to avoid a threatened U.S. mil­it­ary strike. However, a spe­cif­ic agree­ment on the mat­ter is far from be­ing reached.

A ma­jor con­cern of the United States and its al­lies is mak­ing sure that Dam­as­cus re­veals all of the de­tails of its chem­ic­al-weapons pro­gram. Those in­clude its pro­cesses for ac­quir­ing, re­search­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing chem­ic­al tox­ins as well as the loc­a­tions and types of all the mu­ni­tions used to de­liv­er the agents.

“The Syr­i­ans would have to tell us ba­sic­ally everything,” Uni­versity of Mary­land chem­ic­al arms spe­cial­ist Markus Bind­er told the Times.

Des­troy­ing the chem­ic­al-war­fare ma­ter­i­als can be ac­com­plished by in­cin­er­a­tion or neut­ral­iz­a­tion — a chem­ic­al pro­cess that renders the tox­ins no longer dan­ger­ous. Both op­tions pose phys­ic­al risk to the work­ers hand­ling the bulk agent and chem­ic­al-filled mu­ni­tions, as there could be leak­age or ac­ci­dent­al ex­plo­sions. Some ma­ter­i­als could be des­troyed in­side Syr­ia and oth­ers could be trans­por­ted to an­oth­er coun­try for elim­in­a­tion.

Syr­ia is a not a sig­nat­ory of the Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion but might agree to ac­cede to the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ac­cord un­der a pos­sible deal to avoid U.S. at­tacks. The CWC treaty re­quires that chem­ic­al dis­arm­a­ment be over­seen by spe­cial­ists from the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons — the body that im­ple­ments the ac­cord — but that the ac­tu­al elim­in­a­tion work be car­ried out by the state it­self, the Bo­ston Globe re­por­ted.

The Ar­ab na­tion presently does not have the ne­ces­sary tech­no­logy and in­fra­struc­ture to safely des­troy its chem­ic­al ar­sen­al. For­eign na­tions such as the United States and Rus­sia, which both have con­sid­er­able ex­pert­ise in chem­ic­al-arms dis­arm­a­ment, might provide help in this area.

“It’s a gar­gan­tu­an task for the in­spect­ors to moth­ball pro­duc­tion, in­stall pad­locks, in­vent­ory the bulk agent as well as the mu­ni­tions,” Amy Smith­son, a chem­ic­al-weapons ana­lyst at the Monterey In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tion­al Stud­ies, told the New York Times. “Then a lot of it has to be des­troyed — in a war zone.”

A con­sid­er­able quant­ity of for­eign-mil­it­ary per­son­nel likely would have to be de­ployed to Syr­ia to pro­tect the OP­CW in­spect­ors as they go about their work, ac­cord­ing to ana­lysts.

“We’re talk­ing boots on the ground,” an an­onym­ous one­time U.N. weapons in­spect­or with ex­per­i­ence in Ir­aq said. “We’re not talk­ing about just put­ting someone at the gate. You have to have lay­ers of se­cur­ity.”

A 2012 es­tim­ate by the De­fense De­part­ment con­cluded it could take in ex­cess of 75,000 mil­it­ary per­son­nel to se­cure Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons.

“Whichever coun­try would be sent in there to try to get the ac­count­ab­il­ity and do the se­cur­ity, and maybe even­tu­ally get to the de­struc­tion — they will be a tar­get for someone, for one group or an­oth­er,” the ex-U.N. in­spect­or said. “Be­cause no mat­ter who you are, you get mortared some­where by one of the parties” in the Syr­i­an civil war.

A great­er num­ber of OP­CW weapons in­spect­ors likely would have to be hired.

An­oth­er chal­lenge is find­ing and des­troy­ing all of the spe­cial­ized rock­ets that were util­ized in the Aug. 21 large-scale gas at­tack in the Dam­as­cus sub­urbs that pre­cip­it­ated threats of a re­tali­at­ory U.S. at­tack. The rock­ets seem to have been newly built and of a make not pre­vi­ously known about. Thus far, it has not been pos­sible to find out which fa­cil­ity man­u­fac­tured the weapons and Dam­as­cus con­tin­ues to claim that it has noth­ing to do with the rock­ets.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this art­icle in­cluded an er­ror in its ini­tial ref­er­ence to Syr­ia’s siz­able chem­ic­al ar­sen­al.

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