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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

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.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid