This week saw a lot of speculation concerning international consequences of chlorine attacks conducted against Syrian civilians in past weeks. Despite compelling evidence accumulated by the OPCW demonstrating systematic use, no blame has been assigned. The OPCW has issued two reports of its Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria, and recently concluded that “a toxic chemical was used ‘systematically and repeatedly’ as a weapon in villages in northern Syria earlier this year”. The OPCW Mission stated that “the descriptions, physical properties, behaviour of the gas, and signs and symptoms resulting from exposure, as well as the response of patients to the treatment, leads the FFM to conclude with a high degree of confidence that chlorine, either pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question”.
While a US official mentioned “damning evidence” demonstrating only the Assad government could have waged the attacks, no action has been taken. Technically Syria could be referred to the UN Security Council, however Simon Limage, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation said on Monday, that “UN Security Council Politics raise obstacles, apparently meaning a Russian veto”. Moreover, given that chlorine is a common industrial chemical, efforts to limit Syrian stockpiles of the substance would be impractical, despite its use as a weapon violating the Chemical Weapons Convention to which Syria is party.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague is continuing its Fact-Finding Mission, with the support of the Executive Council, and is also preparing its annual Conference of States Parties (CSP) which will convene in The Hague, December 1-5, 2014. No doubt the topic of Syria’s recent chemical weapons demilitarization and alleged use of chlorine will be raised, along with discussion of the on-going CW demilitarization in the US, Russia, and Libya. The US remains on schedule to conclude its demilitarization of its two remaining CW stockpiles in Blue Grass, Kentucky and Pueblo, Colorado by 2023, while Russia is reportedly seeking a further schedule delay from its current 2015 deadline to 2020. Libya is also having problems destroying its remaining 850 metric tons of precursor chemicals, which were scheduled to finish destruction in 2016.