News / Middle East

West Wary Over Syria's Chemical Stockpiles

A Free Syrian Army fighter checks weapons which were seized at the army base in Hawa village, north Aleppo, December 23, 2012.A Free Syrian Army fighter checks weapons which were seized at the army base in Hawa village, north Aleppo, December 23, 2012.
x
A Free Syrian Army fighter checks weapons which were seized at the army base in Hawa village, north Aleppo, December 23, 2012.
A Free Syrian Army fighter checks weapons which were seized at the army base in Hawa village, north Aleppo, December 23, 2012.
Intelligence experts believe Syria has one of the largest chemical weapons arsenals in the world.  Experts ask whether the Syrian government might use these weapons against insurgents and whether the rebels could gain access to chemical weapons and use them against the Syrian armed forces. 

Western analysts say Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal includes mustard gas, the more modern sarin and even VX - the most toxic of all chemical nerve agents.

Still, Leonard Spector, a chemical weapons expert [Director of the Washington-based James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies] said Syria has no history of using such weapons.

“But it sure does have a history of acquiring them.  This program has been going on since the 1980s - if not before,” said Spector.  “And it’s been advanced from the more classic World War One chemical weapons, up to some very modern ones.  They have had help from the Soviet Union originally, later on probably from North Korea and Iran.”

Syria amasses chemical weapons

Gregory Koblenz, an expert at George Mason University, said the Syrians amassed chemical weapons for a key purpose.

“Syria started its chemical weapons program in response to their conventional military inferiority compared to the Israelis and also as a counter to Israel’s nuclear program,” said Koblenz.  “So these were weapons that were designed for use on the battlefield, for strategic use against foreign adversaries - it was not designed to deal with the kind of situation that Syria finds itself in today.”

Western analysts believe Syria’s chemical weapons are produced in four to eight facilities and stored in dozens of sites throughout the country.  As of now, they are secure under government control.

Will Assad use chemical weapons against insurgents?

But questions remain as to whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will use chemical weapons against the insurgency.

Greg Thielmann, an expert with the Arms Control Association, a private research firm, said it is hard to foresee Assad using these weapons against the rebels.

“Chemical weapons are very messy and lethal and it’s not only a danger to non-combatants in a particular area, but they have a tendency to blow back on the very troops who are using them.  So it’s not a very attractive weapon to use - it’s of much more value as a deterrent than it is a weapon actually used in wartime.”

Syrian opposition activists, however, have accused the government of using lethal gas to kill rebels - a charge the government denies.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich dismissed the gas use reports, saying they are designed to provoke “foreign armed intervention” into Syria’s conflict.

But Joseph Holliday, former army intelligence officer and now senior analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said he could see President Assad using chemical weapons against his people.

“Clearly, the chances of that happening increase as the Assad regime nears end game,” said Holliday.  “Right now our deterrence, our ‘red line’ is based really on the psychology of Bashar al-Assad at this point -- that he won’t, he wouldn’t dare to use them because that would mean committing suicide.  But if at some point in the future, if the rebel gains continue, and he’s backed into a corner, Bashar may decide that he’s dead either way and the risks of miscalculation increase.”

U.S. President Barack Obama has warned Damascus that there “will be consequences” if such weapons are used.

Insurgents may get chemical weapons

Experts fear that some chemical weapons might fall into the hands of the insurgents, especially those Islamist radicals fighting to oust Assad.

But analyst Holliday said the rebels will have trouble using the more sophisticated chemical weapons even if they get hold of them.

“Some of the low-end chemicals - mustard gas, chlorine - that can be put basically into a car bomb or something of that nature and used in an unconventional way.  But the higher end weapons, like sarin or like VX, require specific handling and delivery that I don’t know that the rebels would have the capability to do.”

Many experts said the issue of Syria’s chemical weapons will not go away, even if peace is restored.  Analysts said the best way to address the problem would be for the Syrian government to dispose of those lethal weapons under international supervision.

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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: TheLastDaysOfAssad!!! from: The US
December 28, 2012 7:09 AM
Some experienced Military Specialists in the world guess that, beside a lot of Chemical Weapons Stockpiles on the ground, Assad can also have many Chemical Weapons stored in the very deep Bunkers underground…
And Assad can also have Nuclear Weapons.
Quite possibly, from now on, Assad can:
1) Use Chemical Weapons AT ANY TIME, to destroy all Syrian Oppositions and Civil Syrians cruelly.
2) Transport Chemical Weapons to other Nations BY AIR or WATER, in the Middle East and the world over, for dangerous Terrorist Groups, so that they can attack all our Allies globally.
3) Not protect Chemical Weapons Stockpiles, so this Dangerous Weapons can belong to Bad People here. And they can use the ones to attack any person in Syria freely.
And, Using Nuclear Weapons in the battle, is also a quite possible Selection of Assad, if necessary.
In reality, Assad is always MORE DANGEROUS than any Dangerous Weapon, not only for Syria, but also for the Middle East and all over the world.
Therefore, always, FROM NOW ON, we should be active to attack his Army Forces AT ANY TIME, if we feel necessary, in order to break up his Power as soon as possible.
We should be always active to ACT BEFORE ASSAD CAN ACT.
In Response

by: Anonymous
December 29, 2012 5:26 PM
Exactly right, preactive actions could prevent a very large catastrophe.

by: Bean Cube
December 28, 2012 3:33 AM
UN cannot stop anybody selling wars, how can it stop wars? What kinds of sanctions had UN put on those Obvious examples, examples, Zionist Israel and Zionist US? They don't even dare to document them.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs