By Thomas Murphy
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria – The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the global agency charged with enforcing the Chemical Weapons Convention, is preparing to send a team of twenty to Syria on Monday. The team will be responsible for setting up a base of operations, secure communications, and other basic necessities to begin the process of destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. Another team will follow a week later to begin the inspection process.
On Saturday, the OPCW agreed to a very ambitious schedule set forth by the United States and Russia, along with their Security Counsel counterparts, to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. The plan sets a 1 November deadline for the dismantling of all chemical weapons production facilities and a 1 July deadline to destroy all chemical weapons stockpiles. Plans of this nature typically take years to complete, but under such pressing circumstances the OPCW hopes to complete the process in just nine months.
The OPCW, headquartered in The Hague, has handled the destruction of all chemical weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention since it inception in 1997. Syria’s membership has been accelerated and it will become the 190th party to the Convention on 14 October. The speed of situation presents a challenge for the OPCW, which typically deals with the disarmament of well-known quantities of US and Russian Cold War stockpiles.
“It’s kind of a 9-to-5 organization, in a way. It’s not a 24-7 organization, and it’s going to have to adapt to that,” said Faiza Patel, a former senior policy officer at the OPCW. “The organization is not really set up to be an investigative organization,” unlike the U.N. investigators who were sent to Iraq in the 1990s, she said. “It’s set up to do routine inspections that are based on the declarations that the states provide.”
Fortunately, most of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles are “unweaponized”, according to US and Russian intelligence and Syrian statements submitted to the OPCW thus far. Essentially, the “vast majority” of nerve agent is in a liquid bulk form and much easier to dispose of compared to battlefield ready liquid or loaded warheads.
For further information, please see:
Washington Post – Inspectors from obscure agency ready to destroy Syrian chemical weapons – 28 September 2013
Wall Street Journal – Weapons Teams Get Set to Tackle Syria’s Chemical Arsenal – 28 September 2013
Time – U.S. and Russia Say Majority of Syrian Chemical Arsenal Is “Unweaponized” – 27 September 2013
Washington Post – Most of Syria’s toxins can be destroyed more easily than officials initially thought – 26 September 2013