In a letter dated 7 July 2014 Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Mohamed Ali Alhakim notified UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that ‘armed terrorist groups’ had entered the Muthanna complex on 11 June. The next morning a project manager observed them looting of some equipment via the camera surveillance system before the ‘terrorists’ disabled it. The document, as cited by the Associated Press, explicitly referred to the capture of bunkers 13 and 41, two locations still holding chemical weapons (CW) so severely damaged during the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait that until today they could not be disposed of in a safe way.
Since my last update on the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapon (CW) capacities in May, all precursor chemicals have finally left the country. Some have been shipped to facilities in Finland and the USA, where they are in the process of being destroyed. The United Kingdom meanwhile completed the destruction of 190 tonnes of chemicals at an incinerator in Ellesmere Port.
As of 7 August, 74.2% of Syria’s entire stockpile of chemical warfare agent precursors have been destroyed. Other chemicals are meanwhile being neutralised on board of the US vessel Cape Ray in the Mediterranean, and the resulting reaction mass will eventually be commercially incinerated too.
Announcement to media on last consignment of chemicals leaving Syria
Monday, 23 June 2014
Just under 9 months ago in October, I addressed you members of the press – in this same place, here in The Hague – to announce the deployment of the first OPCW inspectors to Syria to begin an historic and unprecedented mission. The mission was to destroy the chemical weapons programme of the Syrian Arab Republic.
A major landmark in this mission has been reached today. The last of the remaining chemicals identified for removal from Syria were loaded this afternoon aboard the Danish ship Ark Futura. The ship made its last call at the port of Latakia in what has been a long and patient campaign in support of this international endeavour.
Syria has now missed about every single deadline since it was unable to move the Priority 1 chemicals out of the country by the end of last year. These even include renegotiated time frames and the self-imposed final date of 27 April. One more fixed date is pending: 30 June, by which time all precursor chemicals should have been neutralised.
It would now seem that the world will sigh with relief if everything is aboard the Danish and Norwegian freighters by the end of next month. US officials envisage 60 working days to neutralise the volume of precursor chemicals and hydrolyse the mustard agent on board the US ship Cape Ray. The end of this mission could be pushed back even further if factors such as bad weather or sea states exceeding safety standards interrupt activities. In addition, the original schedule foresaw incineration of the reaction mass by the end of 2014. However, one of the companies selected by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Finland’s Ekokem, requires at least nine months. This potentially pushes completion of the disarmament tasks agreed in the US-Russian framework agreement of September last year into the second quarter of 2015. Consequently, the disarmament mandate established by UN Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) can be expected to remain in place at least as long.
Syria’s Chemical Demilitarization:
Progress, Challenges, and Lessons
A Roundtable Discussion with
Dr. Paul F. Walker, Amb. Serguei Batsanov,Dr. Ralf Trapp, & Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders
Introductory Remarks by Dr. Alexander Likhotal
Organized by Green Cross International, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition
Monday, May 19, 2014, 17:00-19:00
WMO Building, 7 bis avenue de la Paix, 2d floor
Vieira de Mello auditorium
Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in September 2013 made it the 190th State Party to the Convention with only six countries now remaining outside the treaty regime. This historic event, which occurred under very special circumstances, set in motion the unprecedented international efforts under the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations with the view of dismantling the CW program, including elimination of stockpiles, production facilities, and weapon systems – in the hostile and dangerous environment of a fierce civil war. Since 24 April 2014 over 90% of Syria’s declared chemicals (precursors and warfare agents) have been either destroyed in-country or shipped out of Syria for neutralization on board the MV Cape Ray in the Mediterranean and final destruction at facilities in Finland, Germany, the UK, and the US. This panel of experts will review the history of this process, missed deadlines, current progress, ongoing challenges, allegations of use of chemicals in warfare, and implications for the Syrian civil war.
[Updated: 9 March 2014]
Next month, on the 22nd, it will be the 99th anniversary of the start of modern chemical warfare. The salient around the Flemish town of Ieper offered the perfect location: its northern edge was the only place along the Western front where German troops did not face the prevailing south-westerly winds that could have blown back the chlorine cloud. Later, of course, shells replaced gas cloud attacks.
Shells imply depots, including ones close to the trenches. In Flanders it is not uncommon to still uncover duds—shells that failed to detonate because of malfunction or simply because they got buried in very soft mud. Each year, some hundred metric tonnes (give or take a few tonnes) of unexploded ordnance is recovered and taken to a demolition site near the village of Poelkapelle. About five percent of that volume is filled with a chemical warfare agent. However, statistics usually shoot up when a former underground storage bunker still full with munition is discovered. Such was the case earlier this week, when a farmer in Moorslede, next to the infamous town of Passendale (Passchendale), was transforming a meadow to grow crops. Since then the bomb disposal unit of the Belgian Armed Forces have already recovered over 300 German shells, a large portion of which are chemical (mostly mustard agent). They expect to unearth plenty more. Some press accounts suggest thousands of shells. That figure may not be exaggerated: almost ten years ago to the day, the bomb disposal unit unearthed 3,242 British and German artillery shells in another part of the same municipality. Presumably they had been buried in the field after the war.
Ridding Syria of its chemical weapons (CW) is a costly undertaking. It is projected to cost many tens of millions of Euros. To this end both the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have set up trust funds in support of the Syrian CW disarmament project. The OPCW has already managed to collect close to €60 million. International financial and in-kind support were required as Syria had notified the organisation upon its accession to the CWC that it was not in a position to pay for the CW destruction operations. Despite the international community’s assumption of responsibility for the disarmament project via the decisions taken by the OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council on 27 September, analysis of the list of donors reveals that neither Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) members (barring a single exception) nor Arab League states have come to the assistance of its fellow member state. Yet both bodies do repeatedly declare their full commitment to General and Complete Disarmament or a region free of non-conventional weapons for the Middle East.
The publication of the 4th monthly report by the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month drew worldwide attention to Syria missing important interim deadlines for the removal of chemicals from its territory. US Ambassador Bob Mikulak’s head-on criticism of Syria’s procrastination at the latest OPCW Executive Council meeting reflected frustration shared by many states. The responsibilities Syria assumed under the US-Russian Framework agreement of 14 September, as a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and under UN Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) include the removal of the Priority 1 chemicals by 31 December and the shipment abroad of all other declared chemicals with the exception of those it must destroy by itself (essentially isopropanol and the mustard agent residue in the original containers) by 5 February. The tripartite status-of-mission document, which stipulates the operational roles for Syria, the OPCW and the UN, was finally signed on 6 February. According to Resolution 2118, this agreement should have been concluded by 1 November. Being critical to organising the whole destruction process within the tight deadlines, the UN and the OPCW had already handed the Syrian government a proposal on 16 October.
Open letter to Secretaries John Kerry and Chuck Hagel
February 3, 2014
Secretary of State John Kerry
US Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington DC 20520
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
US Department of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington DC 20301-1400
RE: Public Outreach and Stakeholder Involvement in Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons
Dear Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel:
We the undersigned environmental, public health, nonproliferation, and arms control experts have been closely following all aspects of the Syrian chemical disarmament process. We believe that the most urgent issue today is to make sure that all relevant chemicals from the Syrian stockpiles are speedily delivered to the port of Latakia and loaded onto the Norwegian and Danish ships.
Reuters reported two days ago that Italy has agreed to provide a port to enable the safe transfer of Syria’s priority 1 chemicals from the Danish and Norwegian ships arriving from the Syrian port of Latakia to the US vessel Cape Ray for hydrolysis and neutralisation, most likely in international waters.
Speculation about the proposed port arises now. Italian officials have thus far refused to identify it. According to the daily Corriere della Sera, as cited by The Voice of Russia, the chemicals will be kept in one of the Italian ports until the transfer to the Cape Ray. It cited an unnamed source in the Italian Ministry of Defence, who suggested that the harbour might be in Sicily or Sardinia. Both islands have cargo ports. However, with the exception of the container and oil terminals in Cagliari in the south, those on Sardinia appear small and mainly offer connections to southern France and northwest Italy. Sicily has some larger commercial harbours, particularly the ones of Augusta on the east coast and Pozallo on the southern tip. However, the Foreign Ministry source in the Reuters report stated that the chemicals would not touch Italian territory at any point.