In light of the news from US government sources that signal Washington has information that Syria was making preparations to use its chemical arsenal, read this March piece from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, “The Real WMD nightmare is Syria”, on why international concern should be focused on Bashar al-Assad’s weapons of mass destruction not Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme.
The article, by Charles P. Blair of the Federation of American Scientists, remains an informed and up-to-date piece, albeit slightly scare-mongering.
Some highlights below:
Blair tells us what Syria’s WMDs programme looks like.
Syria likely has one of the largest and most sophisticated chemical weapon programs in the world.
Syria has a chemical arsenal that includes several hundred tons of blistering agents along with likely large stockpiles of deadly nerve agents, including VX, the most toxic of all chemical weapons. At leastfour large chemical weapon production facilitiesexist. Additionally, Syria likely stores its deadly chemical weapons at dozens of facilities throughout the fractious country.
And the risk of Syria using these weapons.
Should Syria devolve into full-blown civil-war, the security of its WMD should be of profound concern, as sectarian insurgents and Islamist terrorist groups may stand poised to seize chemical and perhaps even biological weapons.
Given its robust chemical weapons arsenal and its perceived need to deter Israel, Syria has long been suspected of having an active biological weapons program. Despite signing the Biological Weapons and Toxins Convention in 1972 (the treaty prohibits the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons), Syria never ratified the treaty.
Blair also discusses the chance of weapons spillover into neighbouring countries, and how regional leaders must come together to avert a crisis.
With Syria’s government distracted by internal revolt and US forces now fully out of Iraq, it is plausible that stolen chemical or biological weapons could find their way across the Syrian border into Iraq. Similarly, Syrian WMD could be smuggled into southern Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, Israel, and, potentially, the United States and Europe.
If chaos ensues in Syria, the United States cannot go it alone in securing hundreds of tons of Syrian WMD. Regional leaders — including some, such as Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, that are now backing the insurgency and the regime, respectively — must come together and begin planning to avert a dispersion of Syrian chemical or biological weapons that would threaten everyone, of any political or religious persuasion, in the Middle East and around the world.