Arms in Syria

Arms in Syria

by Nicole Halseth 

Developments continue hard and fast in regards to the conflict in Syria.

After the recent creation of a joint US-Russian deal aimed at stopping the use of chemical weapons within the country, Syria has begun submitting details of its chemical weapons to a Hague-based oversight committee, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

This action was necessitated by reports of alleged chemical attacks against civilians, condemned by the UN as a war crime and inciting calls to military action spearheaded by the US last month. The UN later confirmed that the nerve gas “sarin” had been used on 21 August in an attack on Ghouta, though it does not confirm responsibility for the attack.

Though Syrian president Bashar al-Assad blamed rebel groups for the attack, it seems he is complying with the demand to relinquish control of all available chemical weapons. The OPCW expects more data about Syria’s chemical weapons to be submitted in the next few days.

According to Michael Luhan of OPCW, this list is only a first step. The situation is currently being reviewed and examined by OPCW experts. Challenges to this process include the length of the document, and the fact that it must first be translated before analysis. However, members of the OPCW technical secretariat are working diligently.

In the US-Russian deal, reached last Saturday in Geneva after a long period of conflict between the two countries regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria and what action to take, Syria was given a deadline of 28 September to submit a comprehensive list of its chemical weapons. The list must include the names and quantities of chemical agents used, types of weapons, as well as where and how these chemical weapons are developed, produced and stored within the country.

Under the joint deal, this report will be followed by on-site inspections and the complete destruction of all production equipment, to be completed by November. Should Syria refuse to comply with these demands, the agreement could be enforced by a UN resolution, along with sanctions or military force. The ultimate goal of the deal is the destruction of all Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.

The OPCW is expected to have a timetable for overseeing the execution of this process soon, which will then be endorsed by the UN Security Council.  A meeting between top members of the OPCW, which was supposed to go forward before the end of September to create this timetable, was postponed without an official reason.  However, this meeting is still expected to be rescheduled as soon as possible.

Though it is unlikely that this recent submission to OPCW complies with all the details stipulated in the US-Russian deal, coupled with the fact that Syria ratified the OPCW charter last weekend, it is a good indicator that the ruling Assad regime is willing to cooperate with international authorities. This will hopefully result in a decrease in civilian casualties and injuries in the future.