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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid