News / Middle East

Destruction of Syria's Chemical Weapons Could Prove Difficult

A survivor from what activists say is a gas attack rests inside a mosque in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus August 21, 2013.
A survivor from what activists say is a gas attack rests inside a mosque in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus August 21, 2013.
VOA News
Chemical weapons experts say that any international effort to secure control of Syria's vast arsenal of nerve agents and then destroy it would be a massive undertaking.

These experts tell VOA it is a mission that could take years to complete. Destroying chemical weapons is difficult under the best of circumstances, and would be significantly more treacherous in Syria while battles rage between forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels seeking to overthrow his government.

The research director at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, Tom Collina, says the wartime obstacles could be daunting - and unprecedented.

"The biggest obstacle is that this is all happening in the middle of civil war. As far as I know, it's never been tried before to actually go and protect and extract weapons of mass destruction in a war zone. So that's the first big challenge. So the second challenge is going in and finding all the sites, securing the sites so that nobody is making off with the stockpiles of weapons that are there," said Collina.

An expert on weapons of mass destruction at George Mason University outside Washington, Gregory Koblentz, voiced doubt that Syria will actually turn over control of its stockpiles of deadly sarin, mustard gas and VX.

"I don't think the Syrian regime is serious about actually turning over all of their chemical weapons, and even if they were to do so in the middle of a civil war would make it virtually impossible for any kind of international group to conduct their work safely and securely. So I don't see this happening anytime soon, if ever," said Koblentz.

Analysts say they believe the Syrian cache of chemical weapons is the third biggest in the world, behind only that held by the United States and Russia, which are destroying their stockpiles. Collina says getting rid of Syria's would be difficult.

He said Russia, or much less likely, the U.S., could take control of the Syrian chemical weapons to destroy them through incineration, but questioned whether "Syria is willing to let the weapons leave the country." Alternatively, Collina said a chemical weapons destruction facility could be built in Syria, "but that will take time."

Collina said the longer-term problem for inspectors is making sure they can determine what the Syrian government has stockpiled. Still, he said the world needs to realize that not all the chemical weapons will be found.

"People need to understand that there never will be 100 percent surety that every last chemical weapon has been found and destroyed. But I frankly think that's not what we are after here. What we're after is to have a high degree of surety that a militarily significant chemical weapons stockpile in Syria no longer exists. And I think we can do that," he said.

Koblentz said the experience of United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War shows how difficult it is to find all of the stockpiled agents.

"After Iraq was defeated in the 1991 Gulf War, they were forced to get rid of all of their nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and a special group called the United Nations Special Commission was created to oversee that process. And even though they're operating under favorable conditions, because they're working in a country that had been defeated at war, they were complying with U.N. Security Council resolution, it still took UNSCOM two years to destroy all of Iraq's declared chemical weapons and took them several more years to actually find things that the Iraqis had been hiding from them," he said.

Collina and Koblentz said the inspectors likely will be checking production records and interviewing scientists at Syria's chemical weapons manufacturing facilities to determine if their accounts verify what nerve agents and the size of the stockpile Syria says it has.

There are known chemical weapons sites in such western Syrian cities as Homs, Hama, Latakia and al-Safir and near the capital, Damascus, but some of the agents could be hidden throughout the country.

Syria last year confirmed possession of unconventional weapons, but has never given an inventory of its stockpile. Damascus has never signed a global treaty banning the storage of chemical weapons, but is a signatory to a 1925 treaty prohibiting their use.

Syria's chemical agents are both debilitating and deadly.  Sarin can contaminate food and water, while mustard gas inflicts chemical burns and VX is the most toxic of all nerve agents, poisoning through the skin.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs