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Security Concerns Surround Syrian Chemical Arsenal

(Sep. 6) -A Syrian tank deployed last month in the city of Homs amid widespread antigovernment protests. Observers worry that the collapse of the Assad regime might enable terrorists to acquire chemical weapons stockpiled in the Middle Eastern state (Joseph Eid/Getty Images). (Sep. 6) -A Syrian tank deployed last month in the city of Homs amid widespread antigovernment protests. Observers worry that the collapse of the Assad regime might enable terrorists to acquire chemical weapons stockpiled in the Middle Eastern state (Joseph Eid/Getty Images).

The security of Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons could be at risk as President Bashar Assad continues a violent crackdown on protests against his government, the Washington Post reported last week (see GSN, Aug. 25).

Syria is believed to hold tons of various chemical warfare materials, notably the nerve agent sarin, that could be carried by Scud missiles and other delivery systems. The lethal stockpile, dating to the 1970s, apparently is intended to counter nuclear-armed Israel.

The weapons are overseen by the Assad regime's security sector. However, there is the risk that the materials could be diverted if the security services collapse in the face of a revolt like that seen in Libya, according to experts (see GSN, Aug. 26).

"A lot of people are watching this closely," said one informed U.S. security source (Joby Warrick, Washington Post, Aug. 29).

The United States and Israel are monitoring Syria's stocks of unconventional weapons materials and delivery systems, the Wall Street Journal reported on August 27. The concern is that extremists might exploit the unrest to acquire the materials (Jay Solomon, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 27).

"We are very concerned about the status of Syria's WMD, including chemical weapons," Agence France-Presse quoted Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren as stating in the Journal article. "Together with the U.S. administration, we are watching this situation very carefully."

Damascus possesses no fewer than five facilities for manufacturing chemical warfare materials such as mustard blister agent and the nerve agents sarin and VX, according to present and past U.S. officials. The sites are dispersed around the country, near urban areas including Damascus, Hama, Latakia and Aleppo, the newspaper reported.

The U.S. State Department last week said Syria has not surrendered oversight of the stockpile.

"We have long called on the Syrian government to give up its chemical weapons arsenal and to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it has not yet done," said department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland (see GSN, ). "That said, we do believe that Syria's chemical stockpile remains under government control and that there is no change in the lockdown status of those weapons.

"Syria has a stockpile of nerve agent and some mustard gas, and we will continue to work closely with like-minded countries to ensure that there is no proliferation of that material as well," Nuland added (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, Aug. 30).

NTI Analysis

  • Latin America and the Caribbean 1540 Reporting

    Nov. 8, 2013

    This report is part of a collection examining implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in Central America, South America and the Caribbean to-date.

  • Disarming Syria of Its Chemical Weapons: Lessons Learned from Iraq and Libya

    Oct. 31, 2013

    This CNS issue brief examines the lessons learned from dismantling Libya and Iraq's chemical weapons programs and what these two cases presage for disarmament in Syria. In particular, this article explores the challenges relating to ensuring material and physical security for both inspectors and the chemical weapons stockpile itself; verifying the accuracy and completeness of disclosed inventories; and developing effective monitoring and verification regimes for the long-term. The conclusion examines recommendations stemming from this analysis.

Country Profile

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Syria

This article provides an overview of Syria's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

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