February 3, 2014
Dear Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel:
We the undersigned environmental, public health, nonproliferation, and arms control experts have been closely following all aspects of the Syrian chemical disarmament process. We believe that the most urgent issue today is to make sure that all relevant chemicals from the Syrian stockpiles are speedily delivered to the port of Latakia and loaded onto the Norwegian and Danish ships.
But at the same time we consider it important to ensure the success of the follow-on destruction phase, where the US has taken, and for good reasons, the lead. We have reviewed the plans for the destruction of Syrian chemical warfare materiel (CWM) on the MV Cape Ray, a US roll-on-roll-off merchant marine ship, and we support the planned technical approach. We understand that sea-based destruction may be a less-risky approach at the current moment than in-country destruction in Syria, one that reflects the urgency of the matter, and also offers a workable alternative in view of the reluctance of other countries to destroy Syria’s toxic chemicals and binary precursors on their own territory.
We also believe that use of the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, as installed on the Cape Ray, will minimize any potential risks to public health and the environment. It is important, in our view, to recognize that there are no loaded chemical munitions in the stockpile to be destroyed, thereby eliminating the need to deal with explosives, rocket propellant, and weapons systems; and there is no live nerve agent, only 22+/- metric tons of mustard agent, and some 540 metric tons of key binary chemical weapons components planned to be processed on board the ship. These facts are not secret, are known to the experts, but in order for the public to be reassured, there is a need for a targeted effort to bring this information and knowledge to local communities.
Those of us who have been actively involved in the US, Russian, and other chemical demilitarization programs over the past two decades can testify that the initial absence of active dialogue with local communities and the public at large has resulted in serious misunderstandings and, in fact, reluctance to host destruction facilities; this, in turn, became a major factor behind the long delays in implementing national obligations of both the US and Russia under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Although our review has persuaded us to conclude that the risk of toxic effluent releases to the atmosphere, land, or sea from this operation will be low, we understand why people in the Mediterranean region and elsewhere might respond with suspicion or even opposition to this unique demilitarization of toxic chemicals at sea and in foreign countries. There are already clear signs of discontent and anxiety in this respect coming from Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. Such opposition could clearly delay or prevent the timely and important mission to safely eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in 2014. We therefore suggest the following three steps to help address this challenge:
1) Multilateral organizations, participating national governments, and non-governmental organizations should immediately schedule public dialogue/forums in Italy and elsewhere in the Mediterranean region to explain the technical processes, to discuss the potential risks and benefits of the Syrian chemical weapons destruction program, and to respond to the questions, concerns, and suggestions of local citizens, regulators, and experts.
2) The United States agencies operating the neutralization process on board the MV Cape Ray should provide daily updates, including any monitoring data of air and water, via a dedicated website, on disposal operations; this could be linked with both the United Nations and OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) websites as well. In addition, live, 24-hour webcams on board the ship should be considered as a confidence-building measure, consistent with security and safety requirements, in order to document and make available the demilitarization activity to the public via a website.
3) Communities, likely in the US, Britain, and other European countries that may receive precursor chemicals and/or effluent from the Syrian chemical weapons demilitarization program, should be notified of any proposals to handle or destroy the chemicals and toxic effluent in their areas prior to the start of operations. The OPCW and the United Nations Joint Mission, along with national governments and private industry, should be encouraged to support and cooperate with any national, regional, or local public dialogue/forums and regulatory hearings that are established to review or oversee these toxic chemical disposal operations.
We all believe that full transparency, public outreach, and inclusive engagement of all stakeholders needs to be an integral part of any toxic waste management process, and especially with components of a chemical weapons program. Engaging potentially impacted communities in a timely and transparent way will not only strengthen the protection of public health and the environment, but it will help alleviate public concerns that could otherwise undermine this historic and important demilitarization mission. In a wider sense, it will be an important contribution to the much needed success of this unprecedented cooperative international project for WMD disarmament in a country engulfed in a costly civil war and in one of the most sensitive areas in the world, the Middle East.
Thank you for your timely attention to this matter. Responses can be addressed to Dr. Paul F. Walker, Director, Environmental Security and Sustainability, Green Cross International, 1100 15th Street, NW, Suite 1100, Washington DC 20005, USA, tel +1-202-222-0700, email@example.com.
Dr. Paul F. Walker, Director, Environmental Security and Sustainability, Green Cross International, and Coordinator, Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition (Washington DC, USA)
Ambassador Sergey Batsanov, Director, Geneva Office of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, Member of Pugwash Council, and former chief Soviet and Russian negotiator of the Chemical Weapons Convention (Geneva, Switzerland)
Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association (Washington DC, USA)
Irene Kornelly, Chair, Colorado Citizens’ Advisory Commission for Chemical Demilitarization (Pueblo, Colorado, USA)
Erich Pica, President, Friends of the Earth-United States (Washington DC, USA)
Elio Pacilio, President, Green Cross Italy (Rome, Italy)
Lenny Siegel, Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight (California, USA)
Sharon Squassoni, Director and Senior Fellow, Proliferation Prevention Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington DC, USA)
Dr. Ralf Trapp, Consultant, CBW Arms Control and Disarmament (Chessenaz, France)
Craig Williams, Co-Chair, Chemical Destruction Citizens’ Advisory Board (Blue Grass, Kentucky, USA)
Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders, Director, The Trench, and Council Member, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (Ferney-Voltaire, France)