Head, Center for International Security at the Primakov National Research Institute
Regarding Russia's proposal to Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control, board member Alexey Arbatov previewed what that proposal might look like, in practice, including establishing a special UN body, seeing that Syria signs the Chemical Weapons Convention and dispatching inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — the overseer of the treaty — to gather facts about Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.
Arbatov also shared some of the practical challenges in Moscow's proposal, saying, "Syria has huge chemical weapons stockpiles – up to 1,000 tonnes at three facilities…who will volunteer to do the job? Russia's chemical weapons elimination facilities are too busy with doing away with domestic arsenals," he noted. Highlighting the risks of transport, Arbatov said, "Transporting chemical weapons from Syria by train or by tanker is extremely risky. They may well come under attack by the armed Opposition. Escapes of sarin may follow to bring about catastrophic consequences." Read Arbatov's comments in ITAR-TASS.
Writing in The Guardian, emeritus board member Shirley Williams noted the opportunity to engage Iran in a political settlement of the Syrian conflict. She points out new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's condemnation of the most recent chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs. "Iran is also a country that has suffered more cruelly than any other from chemical weapons," she writes. "During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Iran lost tens of thousands of young men, many to the obscene effects of chemical weapons used by Iraq, which was never condemned by the west." Read the op-ed.
And following the revelation that British companies sold chemicals to Syria that could have been used to produce the deadly nerve agent used in the chemical attacks on the Damascus suburbs, new board member and former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind condemned the sale, saying, "When you have a dual-use chemical and one of the uses is for the construction of chemical weapons, as a general policy that should not be permitted for sale to any regime that is either known to have or might be interested in constructing chemical weapons or to a country that has failed to sign up to the international accords on the trade in restricted substances." Commenting to the UK's Daily Mail, he concluded, "In the case of these licences being awarded to sell sodium fluoride to Syria it sounds as if some serious errors were made."
Ahead of last month's Parliament vote that failed to authorize British military intervention in Syria, Rifkind warned, "The Syrian government will be watching carefully to see whether the international community is determined to act or is impotent. Months ago President Obama warned that a red line would be crossed if chemical weapons were used. If these warnings are now seen to be hollow the Assad regime will draw the conclusion that it can commit whatever atrocities it wishes against its own people without paying any price." Read his op-ed in The Guardian.
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