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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More