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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs