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.
A few days ago the press revealed that the United States has offered to neutralise some of Syria’s most dangerous chemicals aboard the Maritime Administration vessel MV Cape Ray. In the margins of the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) currently underway in The Hague, more details about the proposed neutralisation process have become available. At the time of writing, it appears that the US proposal is the only viable chemical weapon (CW) disposal method on the table.
If ever you had the impression that things had calmed down over the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons (CW), you may be in for a bad surprise. The already frenzied pace of developments has just picked up again.
On 15 November the OPCW decided on the timelines for the destruction and removal of Syria’s chemical weapon (CW) capacity. In parallel developments, countries that had been hoped to host the destruction operations kindly thanked the United States for the honour and politely refused. It basically left the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—aka the global community—with very few options: destruction operations inside Syria or move them to the sole space on this planet not controlled by a government, a risk-adverse parliament or a NIMBY civil society, namely the high seas. In practice, it looks increasingly probable that the United States will take charge of out-of-Syria destruction operations using off-shore facilities (ships or platform).
|Mustard agents (general)|
|Di-isopropyl aminoethanol||5 tonnes|
|Sodium-o-ethyl methyl phosphonothionate||130 tonnes|
|N (2-chloroethyl)-N-isopropyl propan 2 amine (salt)||40 tonnes|
|N (2-chloroethyl)-N-isopropyl propan 2 amine (solution 23-64%)||90 tonnes|
|N (2-chloroethyl)-N-ethyl propan 2 amine (solution 23-64%)||25 tonnes|
|Propan-2-ol (= Isopropyl alcohol or isopropanol)||120 tonnes|
|Hydrogen fluoride (used in the production of DF, a sarin precursor)||60 tonnes|
|Nerve agents (general)|
|Trimethyl phosphite||60 tonnes|
|Dimethyl phosphite||5 tonnes|
|Phosphorus pentasulfide||10 tonnes|
|Phosphorus trichloride||30 tonnes|
|Phosphorus oxychloride||15 tonnes|
|Butan-1-ol (alcohol)||5 tonnes|
|Methanol (alcohol)||3 tonnes|
|Hydrogen chloride (common chemical, but also early WW1 warfare agent)||45 tonnes|
|2 December 2013||The Director-General is to report to the Executive Council on progress with the implementation of the decision of 15 November.|
|9 December 2013||The Technical Secretariat of the OPCW is to submit for consideration by the Executive Council the combined plans for the destruction and verification of the destruction of each declared Syrian CW production facility.|
|15 December 2013||Facilities with mobile units/systems designed for mixing and filling, and mixing and filling facilities where the specialised equipment is not yet dismantled, collocated with storage sites for binary components and/or empty munitions.|
|17 December 2013||Consideration by the EC of destruction plans for the chemicals moved outside Syria.|
|31 December 2013||Removal from Syrian territory of Priority 1 CW (mustard agent and key binary components, identified as DF, A, B, and BB, including BB salt, as declared by Syria).|
|1 January 2014||Latest date for Syria to submit its plans for the destruction on its territory of isopropanol and residual mustard agent in containers previously containing mustard agent.|
|15 January 2014||Destruction of facilities with disconnected or intact (not yet dismantled) equipment train/lines for the production of chemical agent or binary components.EC to review Syrian destruction plans submitted by 1 January.|
|31 January 2014||Destruction of unfilled chemical munitions on Syrian territory.|
|5 February 2014||Removal from Syrian territory of all declared chemicals, other than the ones that need to be removed before 31 December and isopropanol.|
|15 February 2014||Facilities with dismantled equipment for production and dismantled equipment for mixing and filling.|
|1 March 2014||Finalisation of destruction of isopropanol and residual mustard agent in containers previously containing mustard agent.Latest date for the development of an agreed detailed plan for the verification and draft facility agreement for each destruction facility outside of Syria.Latest date by which the state party hosting destruction operations must provide the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW with detailed information on the destruction facility for verification purposes.|
|15 March 2014||Facilities for production of other chemicals (e.g., thiodiglycol, acetic acid, etc.); as well as facilities that do not hold specialised or standard equipment.Latest date by which the EC must complete its review of the detailed plan for the verification and draft facility agreement for each destruction facility outside of Syria|
|31 March 2014||Latest possible start of effective destruction of mustard agent and the key binary chemical weapon components DF, A, B, and BB, including BB salt.|
|30 June 2014||Ultimate date for completion of destruction of all declared chemicals other than the ones that need to be removed before 31 December and isopropanol.|
|Unspecified date||Destruction of any reaction mass resulting from the effective destruction of mustard agent and the key binary chemical weapon components DF, A, B, and BB, including BB salt. (Such a date may be considered at the EC meeting of 17 December 2013.)|
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.
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.