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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs