The Not So Easy Path Forward on Disposal of Chemical Weapons

Over the last few weeks, media coverage has focused on Syria and the U.S.-Russian plan to bring Syria into the Chemical Weapons Convention and destroy its chemical weapons on a modified timeline.

The plan provides a historic opportunity to eliminate the Syrian chemical threat, something that was unthinkable just a few weeks ago. But implementation of the plan will not be easy.

In order to provide some context, the Center has compiled a fact sheet on the Chemical Weapons Convention; its verification body, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; the international legal interpretations concerning chemical weapons and the history and challenges of chemical weapons disposal.

At present, the U.S. has achieved 90% destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile and is slated to complete chemical disarmament in 2023.  Russia has destroyed approximately 57% of its stockpile and is expected to complete disarmament in 2018.  Both countries have received extensions to the Convention’s 10 year deadline and missed those extended deadlines.

An international effort to eliminate Syria’s estimated 1,000 ton chemical weapons arsenal is unprecedented, though some clues as to how it might proceed can be found in the experience of the United Nations Special Commission created to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction following the Gulf War.  The program had significant success with chemical weapons but only because it was given total access and had international backing that the threat and use of use military and economic force to ensure Saddam’s compliance.

To make matters worse, Syria is still undergoing a massive civil war meaning that inspectors’ jobs will be doubly difficult.

Read the fact sheet or download a PDF copy here.