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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid