On September 14th, 2013, the U.S. and Russian foreign ministers announced an agreement to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. Later that day, Syria submitted its articles of accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The Convention prohibits Member States from producing, stockpiling, stockpiling or using chemical weapons and sets out a 10-year time line for stockpile destruction.
The U.S.-Russian plan modifies the Convention’s normal timeline for declaring and eliminating chemicals weapons and facilities in the following ways:
- Day 1: Deposit the instruments of accession with United Nations Secretary-General (September 14, 2013)
- Week 1: Declare the name, type and quantity of chemical agents and munitions as well as the location and form of all storage, research and production facilities (September 21, 2013.) On September 20, 2013, Syria provided the initial report to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
- Day 11: Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Executive Council to vote of acceptance of Syria’s September 14th declaration (September 24, 2013)
- Week 4: Accede to Chemical Weapons Convention (October 14, 2013)
- Week 6: Ensure completion of site inspections by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspectors (by November 2013)
- Week 6: Destroy of all chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling equipment (by November 2013)
- Early/Mid 2014: Complete the removal and/or destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, preferably outside of Syria.
The U.S. has begun to talk about the timeline in the framework as goals rather than hard-and-fast deadlines. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons must approve this framework agreement and the UN Security Council needs to pass a resolution requiring that Syria comply with the plan and establish an enforcement mechanism.
The U.S. and Russia have set forth an ambitious timeline to declare, verify, inspect, secure, manage and destroy Syria’s estimated 1,000 metric ton chemical weapons arsenal during an ongoing civil war. This framework raises several questions:
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has extensive experience in verifying and inspecting declared chemical weapons stockpiles and facilities. The system is based on full and truthful declaration of stockpiles, following a declaration; the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons verifies the location and total stockpile.
The cooperation of the Syrian government will be necessary and critical to complete destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. Hiding a chemical weapons program is more difficult than hiding a nuclear or biological weapons programs but still possible and the ongoing civil war will provide some cover to the movement/actions of Syrian military units.
However, Syria runs a major risk of getting caught if it tries to cheat. The Wall Street Journal covered the movements of Syria elite Unit 450 moving chemical weapons within the country. With inspectors on the ground and greater international surveillance, it will be difficult for Assad to cheat and there will be grave consequences if he does. The U.S.-Russian framework agreement states that “in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.” However, the U.S. and Russia deferred on the type of Chapter VII action the Security Council will take.
While the process in Syria has no historic precedent, some clues can be found in the experience of the United Nations Special Commission, created to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. The Special Commission was empowered by the United Nations Security Council with universal access to all facilities and had marked success in disarming Saddam’s chemical weapons program. However, some weapons remained.
No, Syria is an active war zone. When United Nations weapons inspectors were dispatched to the scene of the August 21, 2013 chemical weapons attack, they came under sniper fire.
When the Libyan civil war broke out, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons disbanded its presence in the country and has only recently returned.
The U.S.-Russian framework calls for the weapons to be destroyed “outside of Syria, if possible.” If they are shipped outside of Syria, it is most likely that Russia will serve the function of destroying Syria’s chemical stockpile. It has existing infrastructure from the ongoing destruction of its 41,000 declared chemical stockpile. Russia uses seven facilities to destroy its chemical weapons and a naval base in Syria to ship the stockpile out.
The transfer of chemical weapons is technically a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Given the unique circumstances of the Syrian situation, it is likely that the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will grant special permission for the transfer.
However, transferring filled munitions and active agent is logistically difficult and extremely dangerous. Transferring the precursor chemicals is possible but experts are divided on the question of the feasibility of exporting active agents for destruction. It is most likely that Syria maintains its arsenal as unmixed precursor chemical for nerve agents and ready-to-use blistering chemicals.
The traditional model for destruction is in-country at or near the location of depots at which the weapons are consolidated.There are in-country disposal options including mobile destruction technologies developed by the U.S. and Japan. Additionally, the U.S. used a novel program to assist Albania in their disposal efforts. A destruction facility was built in Germany and then transferred to Albania.
Syria’s ongoing civil war will increase the risks of both transporting the chemical weapons and of in-country disposal.
UPDATE: Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has told Russian state-run media that Russia will not import and destroy Syria’s arms. Ryabkov said: “”We believe the destruction (of chemical weapons) on Syrian territory is the best option.”
The framework worked out by the U.S. and Russia calls for the destruction process to be supervised by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Maintaining the security of chemical weapons shipped to Russia would likely fall to the Russian navy.
It is likely that Syrian chemical weapons destined for Russia will be collected at the Russian sea port in Tartus, Syria and moved overland 1,900 kilometers through Turkey and Georgia or shipped across the Mediterranean Sea, through the Bosporus Straits to the Russian port of Novorossiysk.
There are three basic technologies for chemical weapons destruction: incineration, low-temperature neutralization and explosive destruction technologies for filled munitions.
Russia is using low-temperature neutralization technology and these technologies will likely be applied to Syria’s chemical weapons if transported out-of-country. The mobile explosive technology or other mobile technology would likely be used if in-country destruction was necessary. It is possible that an incineration facility could be built in-country or built outside of Syria and then transported there, as was done in Albania. Additionally, some existing industrial facility might be retrofitted to serve the stockpile destruction function.
The U.S.-Russian framework calls for Syria’s chemical weapons to be destroyed in less than a year. Since the logistics of destruction have not been set, it is impossible to know if that is a realistic goal. South Korea and India had similarly sized arsenals and
Russia is slated to complete destruction of its chemical weapons in 2018. It is possible that destroying Syria’s chemical weapons using Russia’s existing infrastructure could mean Russia’s deadline would need to be extended.
President Obama and French President Francois Hollande have been very vocal is stressing the need to maintain the threat of force to ensure Syrian compliance.
Given the experience of the United Nations Special Commission , Presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton found it necessary to threaten and on one occasion use force to ensure Saddam’s cooperation with inspections.
The U.S.-Russian framework includes statements on the use of force to ensure compliance: “In the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.” The U.S. and Russia differ on the type and scale of action that would be taken under Chapter VII and whether to include the threat of force in the United Nations resolution.
Russia is one of Syria’s closest allies and it has a vested interest in ensuring the success of this framework without the use of force. Russia’s international credibility is on the line concerning not only this agreement, but future diplomacy in the Middle East as well as its ability to broker international agreements. Furthermore, Russia has an incentive as a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention to ensure that no countries maintains or uses chemical weapons in international or domestic conflicts, thereby enhancing the norm against their use and limiting access to these weapons by subnational groups.
Under the Chemical Weapons convention, Syria would be responsible for the destruction costs of its weapons: “each State Party shall meet the costs of destruction of chemical weapons it is obliged to destroy.” The civil war has wreaked havoc on the Syrian economy and the State’s expenditures are nearly two and a half times its revenue.
Deposing of chemical weapons is extremely expensive.According to Ben Freeman at Third Way, disposal of 90 percent of America’s 28,000 plus ton arsenal has cost $28 billion dollars to date and the remaining 3,000 plus tons is estimated to cost an additional $10.6 billion for a total price tag of $38.6 billion.
A host of countries have assisted Russia in building its neutralization infrastructure including Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, the European Union, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K. and U.S.; these countries that could be approached to provide funding. Some countries have already made donation pledges. Other potential donor nations are countries in the region with a vested interest in the chemical disarmament of Syria including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, U.A.E., Jordan, Turkey and others.
The Assad government is still responsible for using chemical weapons in violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925. However, the Protocol has no enforcement mechanism.
France has repeatedly called for Assad to be indicted by the International Criminal Court and called for a United Nations Security Council Resolution giving jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court. The U.S. has refused to agree to the International Criminal Court, and therefore could not offer this resolution.
Since Syria is not Party to the Rome Statue, a United Nations Security Council resolution would be necessary to assert jurisdiction over Assad, a measure Russia is likely to veto since it maintains that Assad did not use chemical weapons.
Despite the deaths of more than 100,000 due to the Syrian civil war, the death of more than 1,400 from chemical weapons resulted in international condemnation and the threat of military action. The international community has established prohibitions and taboos against the use of weapons of mass destruction because these weapons have the capacity to kill indiscriminately kill massive numbers of civilians in a horrific manner. The U.S. threat to respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons with force was designed to reinforce this norm.
If successfully implemented, the U.S.-Russian framework will strengthen the norm against chemical weapons.