Tag Archives: Middle East

Must the Belgian babies be bayoneted all over again?

August, 100 years ago: the Hun from the east invaded little, neutral Belgium. In the opening weeks of the campaign the Hun was not a good boy. He wilfully executed civilians, raped women, destroyed historical monuments and burned down university libraries—all war crimes that have been extensively documented. The worst barbarian acts, however, he committed against babies. He cut off their hands, so that the grownup man could never take up arms against the Hunnic master. Worse, he tossed them in the air and caught them on his bayonet. Alas, each investigated claim proved to be a myth. Meanwhile, many a Brit had enlisted to revenge the ‘Rape of Belgium’. read more

Roundtable invitation: Syria’s Chemical Demilitarization


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. read more

Talking disarmament for the Middle East

Last month Noha Tarek from Egypt commented on my reflection that neither members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), with the exception of India, nor Arab League members have contributed financially or in kind to the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons (CW). Syria participates in both groupings. She linked disarmament elements to a host of intra-regional and external politics and considered the relationship between Syria’s (read: Arab) CW and Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

It has taken me a while to reply. I could have easily registered my disagreement with several elements, but that does not open new perspectives for disarmament in the Middle East. Moreover, any ‘correctness’ of a viewpoint would depend entirely on whether Noha and I share a common taxonomy of issue interrelatedness, which we do not. On the contrary, I am absolutely convinced that the public discourse on disarmament in the region must change if any progress is to be made. By governments, to make negotiated solutions acceptable to their respective citizens. By the public to allow politicians and diplomats the space to back out of entrenched positions held for so many decades. Security, of course, remains paramount. However, it can be organised differently. Disarmament is after all the continuation of security policies by alternative means. read more

Taking stock of the chemical weapon ban

On 20–21 March the University of Rome III hosted a roundtable discussion to reflect on the current status of the prohibition on chemical weapons (CW) and the future challenges to that ban. Although convened by the Law Department, the speakers represented an eclectic group of experts with backgrounds in international law, political sciences, chemistry and biology, as well as practitioners. Notwithstanding, the meeting yielded considerable coherence in arguments, with questions, challenges and supplementary insights contributing further to an already rich multi-disciplinary texture. read more

Getting by with a little help from my friends

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. read more

Detailed calendar for the elimination of Syria’s CW

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.)

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

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

Syria: Should UN Investigators Pass Judgement?

With the horrific events of the past two days in several Damascus suburbs dominating the airwaves and press reports, the ability to establish rough time lines of events and more detailed circumscriptions of the areas affected allows more and more to conclude that several more or less simultaneous chemical weapon (CW) attacks took place in the very early morning hours of 21 August. While the number of casualties — affected survivors and fatalities — is impossible to establish right now, it is clear that scores, if not hundreds of people fell victim to some asphyxiant. Several chemical warfare agents are liquids. The evaporation of droplets after their release creates a toxic cloud that is typically heavier than air. It would seep through any cavity into lower-lying spaces. Many reports indicate that people were sleeping in basements to shelter from nightly shelling. This may account for the large number women and children casualties. read more