How The World Plans To Destroy Syria’s Chemical Weapons

CREDIT: AP Photo/Peter Dejong

The world body charged with organizing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons has finalized the plan on how to rid the civil war-torn country of its deadly arsenal, announcing on Tuesday its compressed timeline to have them out of Syria by the end of the year.

While the exact text of the decision from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) remains classified, the outline of the plan could be found in a speech delivered on Tuesday. “It gives me great satisfaction to report to you that, within a month’s time, the major elements of such a transportation and destruction plan are in place,” Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in his statement to the body’s Executive Council. An ambition timeline, as presented by Uzmucu, calls for all of the chemicals that inspectors had previously disabled would be shipped out Syria by December 31, with their destruction completed before April 2014.

The actual destruction of the deadliest of the chemical agencies will be carried out aboard a special ship the United States has deployed to neutralize priority chemicals while at sea. “American authorities have offered the MV Cape Ray, a 213-meter (nearly 700-foot) ship owned by the Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration, which is to be outfitted with a special machine called a Field Deployable Hydrolysis System that renders the chemicals inert by mixing them with other chemicals and heated water,” the Associated Press reports. The majority of the chemicals at the 22 sites Syria revealed to the OPCW are of the sort one could easily find at civilian industrial facilities, making their destruction far easier. The OPCW has already begun to solicit bids from private companies to store and destroy these components.

Removing the weapons from Syria’s shores is truly an international effort. Denmark and Norway have agreed to provide vessels and military escorts for transporting the chemicals themselves and eventually the transport of the chemicals that are due to be disposed of at commercial facilities. Finland has offered up a chemical weapons emergency response capability, while Italy has designated one of its ports for transloading the priority chemicals from Danish-Norwegian ships to the Cape Ray.

Actually getting these chemicals to the American ships and out of Syria constitutes the hardest part of the mission. Moving the components from their current locations in twelve storage sites to the Syrian port city Laitakia would be difficult even if it wasn’t taking place in the middle of an ongoing civil war. As part of the effort, the U.S. has volunteered nearly 3,000 containers of various capacities, GPS locators, loading, transportation, and decontamination equipment. The Russian Federation will be providing large capacity and armored trucks, water tanks, and other logistical supplies, along with possibly providing security for cargo operations at the port and in Syrian waters. China will contribute 10 ambulances and surveillance cameras. Syria itself will be responsible for all the packing and safe transportation of chemicals until they are loaded onto the maritime vessels.

Uzmucu noted that the timeframe’s ambition could possibly outpace the conditions on the ground. “At times, schedules have been disrupted by a combination of security concerns, clearance procedures in international transit and even inclement weather conditions,” he said, noting past delays. “The continuing heavy fighting in the Qalamoun and surrounding areas and the closure of a major arterial road between Damascus and Homs, pose risks to the timely execution of the operation. The possibility of some delays cannot be discounted.”

That the international community even believes that such a timeframe is possible is incredible, given how recently the deal to remove Syria’s chemical arsenal was penned. It was only four months ago that the United States and Russia agreed to facilitate removing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons to forgo a military strike in response to August’s chemical weapons attack against civilians. Only a little more than one month after the United Nations agreed to launch the joint mission with the OPCW to carry out the destruction, inspectors had viewed and dismantled 1,000 metric tons of Category 1 chemical weapons, 290 metric tons of Category 2 chemical weapons, and about 1,230 unfilled chemical munitions.

The OPCW won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year for their efforts throughout the disarmament efforts through out the years, with the Syrian case serving as a highlight to their dedication.