The Syrian government declared on Wednesday that it would be unable to meet the February 5th deadline to surrender 90% of its less lethal, so called “Category Two,” chemical weapon supply to the international community. At present, Damascus has only shipped 4% of more than 1,300 tons of these chemical agents to a Mediterranean port for disposal.
This is not the first time Syria has missed a deadline for turning over chemical weapons; the al-Asad regime failed to hand over its reserves of mustard gas by December 31st. Damascus attributes the ongoing delays to security and safety concerns arising from the civil war. The government seeks additional armored troop carriers and bullet-proof vests to facilitate the delivery process. The U.S. opposes supplying any equipment to the Damascus regime because it could be used against rebel forces.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is tasked with facilitating the disarmament, has urged Syria to speed up the process with little avail. Russia maintains that Syria will abide by the agreement calling for ‘priority’ weapons to be eliminated by March 31st and the entire stockpile to be disposed of by June 30th.
Norway’s HNoMS “Helge Ingstad” waits in the Mediterranean to escort Syria’s chemical weapons. (Photo: AFP)
In another chemical weapons development in the region, the Foreign Minister of Libya has announced that all previously undeclared chemical weapons in the country have been destroyed. In 2004, Muammar Gaddafi handed over 25 metric tons of mustard gas – much of which came to the U.S. for destruction – but purposely misled the international community concerning the true size of the stockpile. Upon Gaddafi’s overthrow in 2011, it was discovered that only about 50% of the supply he had agreed to completely eliminate had been destroyed. The Libyan National Transition Council (NTC) discovered the hidden stash of previously undisclosed chemical weapons. Fears that the remaining weapons would fall into the hands of extremists helped set the stage for a 2013 agreement between the NTC and Washington to accelerate the destruction of Libyan chemicals.
Gaddafi’s deception and Syria’s foot-dragging highlight a poor record for the international organizations involved in disarming rogue chemical weapons states. Poor disclosure requirements and weak enforcement mechanisms have thus far enabled those governments to exhaust the resolve of the international community.