News / Middle East

    Syria's Chemical Weapons Stockpile Vast, Complicated

    A diagram released in a United Nations report September 16, 2013, on possible use of chemical weapons in Syria shows markings and dimensions of warheads found in the area visited by UN inspectors.
    A diagram released in a United Nations report September 16, 2013, on possible use of chemical weapons in Syria shows markings and dimensions of warheads found in the area visited by UN inspectors.
    Under pressure from the United States and Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has provided details of his chemical weapons arsenals to the international organization charged with monitoring them. A spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it received “everything that we have been expecting.” But he did not disclose any figures.

    Syria is believed to have one of the world’s largest chemical weapons arsenals including mustard gas, the more modern sarin and even VX - the most toxic of all.

    Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, said Syria has produced chemical weapons for decades.

    “It was Assad’s father who started building this arsenal. It was done with the assistance of several other countries, including Russia and we believe North Korea,” said Cirincione. “And the arsenal was aided by Western companies selling the regime components that it would need, particularly the precursor chemicals which have civilian applications but which are used to make some of this deadly nerve gas.”

    Syria’s chemical weapons stocks

    Cirincione said U.S. intelligence services have a pretty good idea where Syria's chemical weapons are located.

    “There are about five or six main chemical depots and U.S. intelligence has tracked the movement of some of these munitions out from those main depots over the last few months and particularly in the last few weeks to about three dozen different sites.”

    Until recently, the Syrian government denied possessing chemical weapons and still denies using them in its war against insurgents.

    But earlier this month, a United Nations investigation concluded that chemical weapons, including sarin, were used in Syria against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale. Syrian authorities deny responsibility for the attack and blame rebels.

    Evidence points to government

    How Are Chemical Weapons Destroyed?

    • Chemical agents can be destroyed by incineration or neutralization
    • The U.S. Army has 5 portable units capable of destroying chemical weapons armed with explosives
    • Operators put the weapon in a sealed container and remotely detonate charges to set off the weapon
    • Operators then add chemicals to the sealed container to neutralize the weapon
       
    Source: US Army
    However Greg Thielmann, an expert on weapons of mass destruction, now with the Arms Control Association, echoed Washington’s conclusions that the Syrian government is to blame.

    “The mandate of the U.N. was not to get into the issue of culpability. What it does though, by providing the additional information about whether or not a large scale attack by chemical weapons occurred, just by providing the details, they provide corroborative evidence or a very strong circumstantial case against the Syrian government,” he said.

    President Barack Obama threatened limited military action to deter and degrade Bashar al-Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons.  

    But now that is on hold, since the United States and Russia reached an agreement whereby Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons arsenal.

    US, Russia accord

    The accord calls for international experts to complete initial on-site inspections by November and for the destruction of all of Syria's chemical weapons material and equipment in the first half of next year.

    Analyst Cirincione, who has followed disarmament issues for years, said the agreement was a stunning development.

    “I’ve never seen anything like this. Usually, a process like this takes months or years - and here you went from a situation where Assad was denying having chemical weapons, to then admitting that he had them and then agreeing to sign the international treaty that bans the chemical weapons and mandates their elimination,” said Cirincione. “It’s happening at an unprecedented speed and apparently with the cooperation of the involved parties.”

    Cirincione said neither the United States nor Russia wants Assad to keep his chemical weapons arsenal - nor do they want to see Syria descend into further chaos. The recent U.S.-Russian accord on Syria, says Cirincione, is a perfect example of how adversaries can cooperate when their security interests are being met.

    Andre de Nesnera

    Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    From fast-food restaurants to pizza delivery, here's what the history of take-out food tells us about changes in American society

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Bear from: USA
    September 26, 2013 5:11 PM
    What a load. You show some pictures of ancient rusted out canisters and we are to believe that they have some huge sophisticated stockpile? You are either out of your minds or you think the general public is. People with critical thinking skill and can actually use their computer are not buying into your narrative at all. Why don't you try using google and see what you come up with. You are completely insulting.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora