Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Chemical Weapons

Under a US-Russian deal clinched in September 2013, Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles must be destroyed by June 30, 2014. The elimination of the Syrian government’s chemical arsenal by mid-2014 is realistic if all involved parties cooperate, including with ceasefires, the head of an international watchdog in charge of the task said Wednesday 09 October 2013. “Elimination of those weapons is in the interest of all,” Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told a news conference in The Hague. “Sometimes temporary ceasefires are needed in order to let the experts do their work. The targets could be reached if all parties cooperate. So far, the Syrian authorities have been cooperative,” Uzumcu continued. He said that specialists from his organization started their mission in Syria on 07 October and had so far inspected one site, with more than 20 other sites slated to be visited in the coming weeks. Syrian authorities on 06 October began destroying containers and devices used to deploy chemical weapons, Uzumcu said. The state also intends to render all chemical-arms-making facilities unusable by November 1, he added.

The international watchdog overseeing Syria's destruction of its chemical weapons program said the country met the deadline to destroy equipment used to make the arms. Michael Luhan, spokesman for the the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the Assad government had cooperated with the internationally-imposed deadline. “We consider that this first stage of verifying Syria's initial declaration of its chemical weapons program and verifying Syria's destruction of its production- making facilities in mixing and filling plants that that has all been achieved," Luhan said 31 October 2013. The next step would be to destroy the chemicals and binary agents that were in Syria's existing weapons stockpile of around 1,000 tons.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon on 28 January 2014 said he had expressed concern to the Syrian government of its "now behind schedule" elimination of chemical weapon and said it was "imperative" Damascus "intensify its efforts." Ban said in a letter sent to the UN Security Council on Tuesday that he was aware of the "volatile security situation" faced by the Syrian government, involved in a nearly three-year-old civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people and displaced more than 6 million people.

On 07 January 2014 priority chemical weapons were moved to the Syrian port of Latakia where they were processed and loaded onto a Danish cargo vessel, which then left the port and set out to sea escorted by a naval ship from "participating member states" of the United Nations. It waited at sea for further chemicals. Britain, China, Danish, Norwegian, Russian and U.S. ships were participating. "Since then, however there has been no further movement of chemical weapons material and the vessels remain positioned outside Syrian territorial waters while waiting for chemical weapons material from the storage sites to arrive at the port of Latakia," Ban said in a letter to the council, accompanying the latest OPCW report, dated 24 January 2014.

"I am concerned that more movements have not taken place," he added, recalled the Dec. 31 deadline for the removal of all priority chemical weapons material had been missed by a few days and "the Feb. 5 deadline to remove other chemical materials is imminent.... The operation to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons program is now behind schedule," the secretary-general said. "I have spoken to the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) and other member states concerned to express my concern regarding this delay, " he said. "The director-general of OPCW (Ahmet Uzumcu) and the special coordinator (heading the joint mission, Sigrid Kaag) have similarly engaged senior Syrian representatives to persuade them to enable immediate removal."

"The delay is not insurmountable," Ban said. "The June 30, 2014 deadline is still five months away. However it is imperative that the SAR now examine the situation, intensify its efforts to expedite in-country movements of chemical weapons material and continue to meet its obligations." Uzumcu's report said he had expressed his concern to Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, regarding Syria's reporting obligations and "the substantial expenses being borne by Denmark and Norway with regard to the cargo ships and the potential risks in relation to the commercial tendering process posed by the delay. "

Remains of some of the chemicals used in the weapons being disassembled were to be handled by commercial firms while others are to be treated through hydrolysis aboard a U.S. Navy ship at sea. The chemicals for commercial rendering were to be taken to the port of Giaoia Tauro in southern Italy. Germany said it would destroy effluent during destruction of mustard agent, Belarus provided 13 field kitchens for related work in Syria and Britain said it would provide equipment to support the process of neutralization of chemical warfare agents. More than a dozen countries, including those participating, contributed to a Special Trust Fund for the Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons, which Uzumcu said stood at 13 million euros ( about 17.8 million U.S. dollars) as of 24 January 2014.

Syria failed to meet another key deadline for turning over its chemical weapons stockpile as part of an internationally brokered agreement. Under a February 5 deadline set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Syria was to have given up its complete stockpile. Syria had so far sent only two shipments of chemicals to be destroyed, amounting to less than five percent of its stockpile. The OPCW said Damascus was not doing everything it can to meet that timetable.

A third shipment of chemical weapons material left Syria February 10, 2014 to be destroyed as part of an internationally brokered agreement to rid the country of its chemical weapons arsenal by mid 2014. A statement by the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says the material left the country Monday aboard a Norweigian cargo vessel accompanied by a naval escort from China, Denmark, Norway, and Russia. The statement said that some chemical materials were also destroyed inside the country.

By 14 February 2014 Syria had relinquished only 11 percent of its chemical weapons in three shipments, and it increasingly appears the nation will miss a politically-loaded midyear deadline to completely destroy the toxic stockpile. That included only about 5 percent of the most toxic priority chemicals. The important materials had not yet been brought, except a little consignment at the beginning. The next deadline was the end of March 2014, when the most toxic chemicals, including sarin and mustard gas and their precursors, were supposed to have been destroyed outside the country.

Syria presented a new -day plan for the destruction of its chemical weapons 21 February 2014, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The OPCW received a new chemical weapons destruction plan from Syria and is studying it. The OPCW Executive Council will debate the plan during its session on March 4-7. "The Syrian 100 day plan for removal of the chemicals, on which we have been briefed, is not adequate," Philip Hall, head of the British Foreign Office Counter Proliferation Department, told the OPCW. "We now urge the Syrian authorities to accept the proposals submitted by the Operational Planning Group that provide for removal in a much shorter time frame, without compromising on security," he said. The international mission believes the operation can be carried out before the end of March, adding that Syria's proposed end-May deadline would not leave enough time for the chemicals to be destroyed before the end of June.

On 21 August 2013, Syrian opposition leaders accused forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of killing hundreds of people in attacks using "poisonous gas" on rebel-held areas of Damascus. The death toll reports varied considerably and could not be independently verified, but were generally believed to be in the hundreds. George Sabra of the exiled Syrian National Coalition estimated the number of casualties at 1,300, including women and children, at a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, a number that was widely reported. The Syrian government immediately denied the allegations, saying that the opposition was attempting to disrupt UN attempts to verify existing claims of usage of chemical weapons. Russian authorities also suggested that they could not rule out the possibility that the opposition had staged the event in order to influence or derail movement on a US-Russian developed peace plan.

United Nations chemical weapons inspectors were already in the country, having arrived in Syria on 18 August 2013 to carry out a 2-week mission in Syria to investigate earlier incidents in which the Syrian government and rebels accused each other of carrying out chemical attacks. The inspectors' mandate was only to try to establish whether chemical weapons were used at all, not who used them. The mission was also limited to investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in 3 areas, including a March attack in the Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal. The UN had continued to push for unfettered access for the inspectors and western powers called for the team to investigate the new allegations. The UN Security Council subsequently called for a clarification of the incident and "a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation" of the incident. On 22 August 2013, France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius took the hardest line among European powers, saying that "If [the attack] is proven, France's position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force" and that "If the Security Council cannot take a decision, at that moment decisions must be taken in another way," implying the potential for a unilateral use of force. China and Russia remained staunchly opposed to the use of force and NATO members Germany and Turkey both called for increased sanctions, but refused to speculate on the potential for the use of force.

On 25 April 2013, during a trip to the United Arab Emirates, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the US intelligence community believed the Syrian government had used sarin gas on a small scale against rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. Also on 25 April 2013, the White House delivered a letter to two members of Congress on the topic of chemical weapons use in Syria, saying that US intelligence had confirmed the information "to some degree of varying confidence."

On 22 December 2012 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Syrian chemical weapons are under the control of the Syrian government, which has consolidated them in one or two locations. “As of right now… the [Syrian] government is doing all it can to safeguard those weapons,” he said, adding that “we are following all leads concerning chemical weapons.” However, there is a potential danger those weapons could be seized by militants, he admitted.

On 12 July 2012 news reports indicated that some Syrian chemical weapons were being moved from their storage areas. Some US officials were concerned that the weapons might be used against rebels or civilians, or the weapons were possibly being hidden from the opposition or Western powers. On 13 July 2012 Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters there were no indications that Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles have become less secure. “Our assessment remains what it’s been for some time. The Syrian regime has control of its chemical weapons stockpiles,” Little said at the Pentagon.

“We believe that the Syrian government has a very serious responsibility to protect its stockpiles of chemical weapons,” he added. “We would, of course, caution them strongly against any intention to use those weapons. That would cross a serious red line.” If any Syrian officials choose to utilize chemical weapons they will be held accountable for their actions, he said. “We have a Syrian regime that continues to perpetrate multiple attacks against the civilian population every day ... If they were to take further steps, it would be an even graver situation,” Little said.

Syria may only use chemical weapons against external aggression, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said on 23 July 2012. "Syria may use chemical weapons only in case of foreign aggression," according to a Foreign Ministry statement read by Makdissi during a press conference in the Syrian capital Damascus. Syria will never use chemical weapons against civilians, he added, stressing that the weapon stocks are secure.

U.S. President Barack Obama warned the Syrian authorities that they would be held accountable if they decide to use their arsenal of chemical weapons. "Given the regime's stockpiles of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching and that they will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons," Obama said on 24 July 2012.

The Syrian authorities assured Moscow that there will be no use of chemical weapons against rebel forces, Russia’s foreign minister said on 06 November 2012. “I rule out the use by the [Syrian] regime of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists. “We have received the appropriate assurances.” Lavrov said Russia had also asked Syria to make a similar pledge to Western powers.

Syria, not a signatory to either the CWC or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and not having ratified the BWC, began developing chemical weapons in 1973 prior to the Yom Kipper war when the Egyptian government reportedly gave Syria artillery shells capable of delivering chemical weapons. Since then Syria has developed a robust chemical weapons program, perhaps one of the most advanced in the Middle East, and a variety of delivery methods. The country is still very depending on outside assistance in procuring important precursor chemicals and equipment.

Apparently, during the early 1980's, a policy decision within the Syrian government, led to the rapid development of non-conventional weapons. It is likely this decision was the result of the realization that Syria could not reach conventional military parity with Israel.

The US Government reported August 30, 2013 that "We assess with high confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year, including in the Damascus suburbs. This assessment is based on multiple streams of information including reporting of Syrian officials planning and executing chemical weapons attacks and laboratory analysis of physiological samples obtained from a number of individuals, which revealed exposure to sarin. We assess that the opposition has not used chemical weapons."

On 09 September 2013 US Secretary of State John Kerry, in what seemed like an offhand remark this past week, mentioned chemical weapons disarmament as a possible solution to the Syria impasse. Moscow picked up on the remark almost immediately and offered it as a proposal and the Syrians, again almost immediately, accepted it. Most experts dismiss suggestions that this can be done easily or quickly, and certainly not within the tight timetables being mentioned by some diplomats. It wwould take many months, at least, to transfer the entire arsenal out.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s acceptance in principle of a Russian proposal to place his deadly chemical weapons under international supervision is likely facing resistance from his own military, analysts say. But Assad may have had little choice because of Iranian and Russian pressure.

Syrian rebels who have been battling to oust Assad for more than two years have dubbed the disarmament offer a “cheap trick.” The opposition Syrian National Coalition argues that it is a “political maneuver that will lead to pointless procrastination and will cause more death and destruction to the people of Syria.” Without a cease-fire, the danger could be too great for weapons inspectors, most likely drawn from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body overseeing the Chemical Weapons Convention.


Syria is not able to internally produce many of the necessary precursors to create chemical weapons and is dependent upon importing production equipment. The CIA reports in nearly every declassified acquisition report to the US Congress over the last five years the efforts of Syria to obtain precursor chemicals and equipment from external sources. The chemicals were stockpiled prior to international export controls but those initials supplies have likely long been exhausted. Syria's principle suppliers of CBW production technology were reported to be large chemical brokerage houses in Holland, Switzerland, France, Austria and Germany.

In 2001 the CIA reported that:

Syria sought CW-related precursors and expertise from foreign sources during the reporting period. Damascus already has a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin, and it would appear that Syria is trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents. Syria remains dependent on foreign sources for key elements of its CW program, including precursor chemicals and key production equipment. It is highly probable that Syria also is developing an offensive BW capability.

In early 2002 Syria sought chemical weapons-related precursors from various countries. Damascus already held a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin, but apparently was trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents. Syria remained dependent on foreign sources for key elements of its CW program, including precursor chemicals and key production equipment.

Syria is a major regional producer of phosphates that could conceivably be used for WMD. The country produces 2 million tons of phosphate per year and has an estimated reserve of around 2 billion tons. In October 2002 it was announced that a major "super" phosphate plant was to be constructed near Palmyra with a partnership between Russia and the state-owned General Company for Phosphate and Mines. A similar project is underway with the Indian firm, Dharmasi Morarji Chimicals Ltd.

The US has hoped that the 33-member Australia group would help in restricting imports to Syria and other similar states by coordinating the adoption of stricter export controls.

Syria has used the expansion of its pharmaceuticals industry as a cover for purchases relating to its chemical weapons program. Since 1988, protected from competing imports and without patent protection, the Syrian pharmaceutical industry has expanded rapidly and provides about 85% of the country's needs for products. The volume of the domestic market is expected to grow at a rate of 5-7% per annum, and there is the possibility to expand domestic production to meet the additional 15% of demand being met by imports. The state organization "Saydalaya" has a monopoly on the importation of drugs not produced in Syria and controls arrangements for technical appraisal and price negotiation. Syrian companies, however, may apply for a license to manufacture a drug that is being imported, and if permission is granted, imports of the drug end after six months. There is no active material production in Syria, and all active materials are imported from a wide range of overseas sources (Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Spain, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, USA, Slovakia and Oman, by order of value). Exports are confined to finished products and go to countries of the Middle East and North Africa. The vast size of these markets and the relative ease with which many pharmaceutical chemicals can be manufactured suggest a broad avenue of potential for development. Foreign companies may also outsource secondary production to Syrian companies with high quality production facilities, and some manufacturers have licenses from overseas companies to produce their medicines and market them under the brand name.


Syria is now believed capable of producing several hundred tons of CW agents per year. Syrian production facilities are notoriously small in comparison to other CBW facilities in other states and are difficult to conclusively identify. Presently there are four suspected sites. One located just north of Damascus, and the second near the industrial city of Homs. The third, in Hama, is believed to be producing VX agents in addition to sarin and tabun, and a forth near Cerin. Several other sites are monitored by intelligence agencies and are listed only as suspect.

according to a French intelligence report released 03 September 2013, the Syrian stockpile included:
  • Several hundreds of tons of sulfur mustard, stockpiled in its final form,
  • Several tens of tons of VX. VX is the most toxic among the known chemical warfare agents,
  • Several hundreds of tons of sarin, representing the bulk of the arsenal.

According to on 2013 report, Syria had chemical weapons stored at an estimated 40 locations across the country.


The CIA has reported continued effort by Syria to develop solid rocket motor technology, likely to be used in Scud C type missiles. These missiles could be used to deliver chemical weapons, and Syria is believed to have these systems deployed. Since 1985 they have begun to manufacture chemical warheads for their ballistic missiles. Cruise missiles may also be equipped with chemical warheads.

In addition, Syria has persistently acquired small amounts of conventional weapons from Russia, the FSU, China, Iran, and possibly North Korea. In recent years Syria has attempted to acquire Russian SA-10 and SA-11 air defense systems, MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters, and T-80 or T-90 main battle tanks, as well as upgrades for the aircraft, armored weapons, and air defense systems already in its inventory.

Possible Delivery Systems

  • Four SSM brigades: 1 with FROG, 1 with Scud Bs, 1 with Scud Cs, and 1 with SS-21s.
  • "several thousand aerial bombs, filled mostly with sarin," and between 50 to 100 ballistic missile warheads.
  • New long range North Korean Scud Cs, with ranges of up to 600 kilometers and possible nerve gas warheads.
  • May be converting some long range surface-to-air and naval cruise missiles to use chemical warheads.
  • SS-21 launchers and at least 36 SS-21 missiles with 80-100 kilometers range.
  • Scud B launchers and Scud B missiles with 310 kilometers range.
  • Short range M-1B missiles
  • SS-N-3, and SSC-1b cruise missiles.
  • Su-24 long range strike fighters.
  • MiG-23BM Flogger F fighter ground attack aircraft.
  • Su-20 fighter ground attack aircraft.
  • Su-22 fighter ground attack aircraft.
  • Multiple rocket launchers and tube artillery.


In April 2003 US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld stated that the US had evidence to suggest that Syria had been conducting chemical weapons tests over the prior 12 to 15 months. Specifically in November 1999 it was reported by the Washington Times that Syria had conducted a live chemical weapons bombing test using a MiG-23 jet that dropped a chemical weapons-laden bomb on a practice range in Syria. The bombing was detected by US spy satellites due to the distinct coloration on the impact area. The precise type of chemical used was never disclosed.

Outside Assistance

Syria is significantly dependent upon outside assistance for all of its WMD programs. There have been reports over the life of the Syria program that Syria has obtained significant assistance from various states, significantly Russia and France.

Russian General Anatoly Kuntsevich was suspected of smuggling VX precursors to nerve gas for research purposes. The materials shipped to Syria were intended for the production of the Soviet/Russian version of the VX nerve agent - code-named Substance 33 or V-gas. Such a deal might have been made in the early '90s or late '80s during a visit to Syria by the then-commander of the Russian Chemical Corps, General Pikalov.

French support came in the form of pharmaceutical imports. In the early eighties, French companies provided an significant portion of pharmaceuticals imported by Syria. By the middle of the decade France provided nearly 1 quarter of pharmaceuticals coming into Syria. Certainly some of the imports were legitimate, but many were "dual use" items that could be directed to clandestine programs. In 1992 following French acceptance of the Australia Group, all exports became to be monitored for chemicals and equipment that could be directed to chemical and biological weapons programs.

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