Not so dead lines ‒ some updates and corrections

In my posting of 24 November Not so dead lines I tried to assess the composition of Syria’s chemical weapon (CW) arsenal based on official statements, the decision of 15 November by the Executive Council of the Organisaton for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the publication of the Request for Expression of Interest (EOI) inviting commercial companies to participate in the disposal of chemicals and resulting effluent. Given that several elements were based on conjecture, deduction and rough calculations, I offered them with caution pending confirmation.

This post supplements, updates and corrects the previous entry. I have retained the relevant section headers.

A, B and BB

  • I referred to the informal use of ‘Priority 1’ and ‘Priority 2’ chemicals relating to the respective removal dates of 31 December 2013 and 5 February 2014. The reaction mass resulting from neutralisation and hydrolysis is referred to as ‘Priority 3’ chemicals, and their complete elimination is envisaged for the second half of 2014.
  • The codes for the V-agent precursors A, B, BB and BB salt were identified correctly.
    • The reaction of A with B produces the nerve agent VX.
    • The reaction of A with BB yields the lesser known nerve agent VM.
    • The declared volume of BB salt is small: 29 kg.

What do we now know?

This section had a lot of speculative calculations. With one exception ‒ the volume of mustard agent ‒ the proposed figures approach actual data. These, however, remain confidential.

  • The volume of DF is around 570 metric tonnes.
  • Sulphur mustard amounts to 20.25 metric tonnes.
  • Syria’s declared volume of precursors is 1,045 metric tonnes and that of raw materials is 290 metric tonnes, making for a combined total of 1,335 metric tonnes.

I expressed some surprise to find 120 tonnes isopropanol listed in the Request for Expression of Interest in view of the Executive Council decision that all isopropanol must be destroyed inside Syria. This turned out to be an error in the earlier versions of the EOI. The item has now been removed from the list. The figure, however, reflects Syria’s actual declared volume.

The Hexamine, which could have had several applications, was declared by Syria as a precursor in the manufacture of sarin. So, that cancels speculation about the production of the explosive RDX.


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About JP Zanders

Jean Pascal Zanders (Belgium) has worked on questions of chemical and biological weapon (CBW) armament and disarmament since 1986. He was CBW Project Leader at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Director of the BioWeapons Prevention Project and Senior Research Fellow responsible for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation questions at the European Union Institute for Security Studies. He now owns and runs The Trench.

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