Monthly Archives: September 2013

Draft decision of the OPCW Executive Council on Syrian CW destruction

The Executive Council (EC) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is due to meet tonight, 27 September, at 10pm CET.

Below is the text of the draft decision. Some of the highlights of the document are:

  • The OPCW believes that the ultimate destruction deadline of mid-2014, as foreseen in the US-Russian Framework Agreement is achievable. The organisation recognises the need for a surge capacity in order to fulfil its own tasks, and will draw on past personnel with appropriate expertise as well as on voluntary contributions by states parties.
  • The OPCW will work according to modified timelines relative to the ones foreseen in the CWC. In particular, the countdown to deadlines and interim milestones are to be counted from the day the EC has adopted the decision.
  • As already became clear with its submission of initial declarations last Friday and Saturday, Syria has accepted as binding upon itself the US-Russian Framework Agreement. It will therefore cooperate with the OPCW according to the timelines decided by the EC, including the EC decisions on requirements to be met by Syria even before it has fully become a party to the convention (i.e., 14 October 2013).
  • The document grants state party rights to Syria (e.g., confidentiality of its declarations and inspection reports, to which all states parties are bound). At the same time, it also emphasises the various compliance enforcement tools in the CWC.
  • A very interesting passage is 2(d), which hints strongly at the challenge inspection process without naming it as such (Article IX of the CWC is not mentioned, in contrast to the references to specific articles and paragraphs in other parts of the draft decision). I seems different from a challenge inspection in several respects: each challenge request requires an independent decision by the EC, each time with the possibility of a refusal and negotiations with the challenged party on inspector rights (managed access) would take up time, something in very short supply in view of the tight final destruction deadline.  However, the passage also contains a tool to avoid sending the inspectors on fool’s errands: the Director-General can determine whether a claim is unwarranted and state parties can use the bilateral consultation procedure to clarify certain matters before requesting an inspectors’ visit.
  • Syria receives another week inaddition to the deadline in the US-Russian Framwork Agreement to be counted from the day of the EC decision to finalise its inital declaration. It has to submit very detailed data on its munitions (among other things), which will remove any existing ambiguity concerning the ownership of te rockets used in the Ghouta attacks.


The Executive Council,

Recalling that following its Thirty-Second Meeting, 27 March 2013, the Chairperson of the Executive Council (hereinafter “the Council”) issued a statement (EC-M-32/2/Rev. 1, dated 27 March 2013) expressing “deep concern that chemical weapons may have been used in the Syrian Arab Republic,” and underlining that “the use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances would be reprehensible and completely contrary to the legal norms and standards of the international community”; read more

Draft UN resolution on Syria chemical weapons

(26 September 2013)

The Security Council,

PP1. Recalling the Statements of its President of 3 August 2011, 21 March 2012, 5 April 2012, and its resolutions 1540 (2004), 2042 (2012) and 2043 (2012),

PP2. Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic,

PP3. Reaffirming that the proliferation of chemical weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security,

PP4. Recalling that the Syrian Arab Republic on 22 November 1968 acceded to the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, signed at Geneva on 17 June 1925, read more

The Military Implications of the Syrian Crisis: The Chemical Weapons Dimension

Joint Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Security and Defence (SEDE) Committee of the European Parliament

Brussels, 26 September 2013

Statement (PDF) by Dr Jean Pascal Zanders

1.    Mister Chairman, Members of the Foreign Affairs and Security and Defence Committees, I am honoured to address you today on the question of chemical weapons (CW) and disarmament in Syria. I understand that several of my recent writings on the subject have been made available to you as background information, and I will therefore limit myself to highlighting some key issues.

2.    On 21 August, the world woke up to the news of major chemical warfare incidents in the Ghouta district of Damascus. Many hundreds of people died from the effects of poisonous gases. Many more will suffer from the long-term consequences of low-level exposure to a neurotoxicant, now known to have been sarin. Since the end of 2012 there have been several allegations of CW use, but none of them have been independently confirmed. Although deaths and other casualties were reported, the total image never added up to one of chemical warfare. The nature of the attack on the Ghouta district differed in many fundamental ways from the earlier allegations. The parallel mounting of several strikes into different areas, the number of victims, and the density of local reporting (i.e., volume of video footage, pictures, and corroborating witness accounts) all immediately pointed to the seriousness of the event. read more

Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons – Annotated commentary

This is a very quick reaction to the agreement between Russia and the United States to address Syria’s chemical weapons. My interpretations may change as more background information becomes available. I am sure that over the next few days there will be many background briefings to add texture to the individual paragraphs in the agreement. I welcome comments challenging or supplementing my views, and will revise this posting accordingly.

Generally speaking, the bilateral agreement takes the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the fact that Syria has just submitted its instrument of accession to the UN Secretary General as the point of departure. The Executive Council (EC) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will play its full role in the determination of the of the specific destruction timeframes, even though Russia and the USA are likely to press their case very strongly. The EC comprises 41 states parties. They are elected within and proposed by their respective regional caucuses. All voting in the OPCW decision-making bodies is on the basis of one state party/one vote. Under normal circumstances, states parties strive for consensus in their decision-making, but given the urgency with which Russia and the USA wish to have the Syrian question addressed, one should not be surprised to see majority voting results emerge from the EC meetings. Such majority voting should also not be viewed as undermining the legitimacy of the process, because it is foreseen in the treaty text. read more

Syrian accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention – could it be a game changer?

Syrian statements suggest and the UN in New York has confirmed that Syria has decided to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention. If that accession is confirmed, Syria becomes a contracting party of the CWC and, 30 days later, the 190th CWC State Party. What does this mean for the current efforts to bring the Syrian chemical weapons under international control and eliminate them?

First of all, the legal context will change.  By acceding to the CWC, Syria (the government as well as the opposition) will have forgone the acquisition, possession  and use of chemical weapons. It will be under a legal obligation to dismantle its CW programme, shut down and disable its CW production facilities, and destroy its stockpile. It also is under a requirement to criminalize any violation of CWC prohibitions with regard to legal and natural persons that come under its jurisdiction; that may not seem to matter right now but could well become important after the civil war, both with regard to any domestic legal steps as well as any action that the International Criminal Court may take. read more

Syria to join Chemical Weapons Convention, Assad announces

Syria crisis: Assad sets out chemicals plan timeline
BBC World, 12 September 2013 Last updated at 16:45 GMT

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has given the first indication of a timeline for placing its chemical weapons under international control.

He told Russian TV that Syria would apply to join a UN chemicals convention “in the next few days” and submit arms data a month after signing.


Internationalisation of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile?

The idea of internationalising Syria’s stockpile is doable, but what would it take?

Some first thoughts to launch an international and constructive discussion

by Jean Pascal Zanders and Ralf Trapp

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov launched an idea—in the meantime accepted by Syria—based on an offhand remark by US Secretary of State that Syria might avoid punitive military strikes if it were to ‘turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week’. He said: read more

We All Fall Down Part 1: The national intelligence assessments

This is the first of a four-part series analysing the international reactions to the chemical attacks in Damascus on 21 August. Part 2 addresses how the public intelligence assessments have been used to try and justify military interventions against Syrian forces and military installations. Part 3 attempts to construct a counter-factual argument in order to determine whether insurgent forces can be held responsible for the chemical attacks. Part 4 investigates the consequences of international reactions for the future of the norm against chemical weapons (CW). read more