International Cooperation to Eliminate Syria’s Chemical Weapons

While the delays in Syria’s transfer of chemical agents has received significant media attention lately, less attention has been paid to the impressive international coalition that has been assembled to remove and destroy these chemicals. Although the original agreement for Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and destroy its chemical weapons was the result of U.S.-Russian diplomacy, implementing this agreement has become a truly international initiative. Within only a few months, the international community devised a plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program and put in place the resources necessary to achieve this objective.

The extent to which Syria’s chemical disarmament has been internationalized is reflected in a recent fact sheet published by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international organization charged with implementing the CWC and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons. The fact sheet provides details on the financial and in-kind contributions made by states to the organization’s program to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. While the OPCW received approximately $1.2 million when it won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, this amount is only a fraction of the expected cost of destroying Syria’s stockpile of 1,390 tons of chemical weapons. So far, twenty-six countries have pledged or contributed more than $86 million to support this effort. Fifteen nations have also provided in-kind assistance to the United Nations or to Syria to facilitate Syria’s chemical disarmament. Granted, the provision of field kitchens by Belarus and ambulances by China might sound mundane, but in war-torn Syria such resources are in short supply.

An international flotilla of ships from six nations has assembled in the Mediterranean to support the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal. So far, the Dutch and Norwegian cargo ships Ark Futura and Taiko have picked up three loads of chemicals from the Syrian port of Latakia, comprising about 11% of the Syrian stockpile. The centerpiece of this maritime “coalition of the willing” is the U.S.-supplied MV Cape May which will use a Field Deployable Hydrolysis System to destroy 560 tons of Syrian chemicals at sea. Italy has offered the use of the port of Gioia Tauro for the transfer of chemicals from the Dutch and Norwegian cargo ships to the Cape May. Warships from China, Denmark, Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States will protect these vessels during the removal and destruction process.

In addition to this at-sea destruction, the United Kingdom has agreed to destroy 150 tons of chemical weapon precursors at a commercial facility and a state-owned enterprise in Germany will dispose of the waste generated by the destruction of the chemical warfare agent mustard. On February 14, the OPCW awarded contracts to private firms in Finland and the United States to destroy and dispose of the remainder of Syria’s chemical stockpile.

Thanks to the efforts of the United Nations and OPCW, supported by the financial and material contributions of thirty nations, there is now a comprehensive system in place to safely and securely remove and destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical agents. Syria has already missed two deadlines for getting rid of its stockpile. The time for delay is over. The international community has done its part. Now it is up to Syria to deliver on its promise of chemical disarmament.

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