Posted 2016-12-01


The US-Russia agreement for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons in 2013-14: one of the most challenging operations in the history of arms control


Operated by the OPCW with international collaboration – Most dangerous weapons destroyed onboard US ship, others transferred to UK, Finland, Germany, US (Texas)


UNSC determining for the first time international action in Syria


Via NYT: “This situation has no precedent,” said Amy E. Smithson, an expert on chemical weapons at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “They are cramming what would probably be five or six years’ worth of work into a period of several months, and they are undertaking this in an extremely difficult security environment due to the ongoing civil war.”



Image by U.S. Department of State on Flickr 



Reference for text below: Wikipedia


On 21 August 2013, Syria performs a chemical weapon attack on its citizens in a Damascus suburb, Ghouta. The incident shocks the international community. US, France and the UK start discussions on conducting airstrikes on military targets. UK parliament backs off; France gets ready to conduct the strikes. The weekend prior to the intervention, the President and Foreign Minister of France receive a phone call from the US President asking them to wait, not to go ahead.


A few days later, on 9 September 2013, US Secretary of State, J. Kerry is asked by a reporter if there is anything that Assad could do to avert attack. He replied: "Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons" in the next week. "But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done"[4][5]. However, Russia intervenes to persuade Syria. Intense US-Russia negotiations begin and an agreement is reached. A framework for implementation of a chemical disarmament deal is provided, the "Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons" (US State Dept link).


Syria was pressured to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention and agreed to apply the convention provisionally until its entry into force on 14 October 2013. Under the agreement, Syria provided a list of its chemical weapons to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). OPWC created a detailed plan for the destruction of chemical weapons based on the Russia-US agreement. A UN Resolution is sought and obtained making the plan binding for Syria. A joint OPWC-UN mission is formed to supervise the implementation of the plan.


Reference for text below: OPCW


The Syrian chemical warfare programme was based primarily on binary systems, which means two toxic substances have to be brought together to create a highly toxic chemical warfare agent. These are distinguished in Priority 1 (most dangerous) and Priority 2 (less dangerous). Most Priority 1 chemicals were destroyed onboard the US ship Cape Ray (outfitted by the US Department of Defense with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems).  A Danish cargo ship, Ark Futura, carried the chemical weapons from Syria to an Italian port where they were loaded onto the US ship. The rest of the chemicals were transferred to UK, Finland and Germany. The Danish ship was escorted by Danish, Norwegian and UK warships and by Russian and Chinese vessels while in Syria territorial waters. Similarly the Norvegian cargo ship Taiko carried chemicals for destruction to Finland and US (Texas).


This operation was recently cited at an CSIS event on the recent (2016) destruction of Libya’s chemical weapons. Two State Department officials made reference to this operation (cf below).



Reference articles:



The Guardian:




Washington Post:



Image by the US Navy from Wikipedia: The highest-priority chemicals were destroyed on the 648-foot US MV Cape Ray



@infobook tweet






The Libya Success Story of Chemical Weapon Elimination completed in 2016 by the Gov of National Accord, OPCW and International Partners


Libya managed to dismantle its chemical weapon program including its chemical weapon factories and in February 2016 asked for help for the removal of its remaining stockpile from the country (500 metric tones). The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons​ (OPCW) took the mission. Germany volunteered to destroy the chemicals and Denmark Navy to transfer them to Germany. A UN resolution was sought and obtained. US and Canada joined the effort with assistance and funding and other European countries participated in coordination.


At a Center for Strategic & International Studies​ (CSIS) conference on 2016-11-10 representatives from OPCW, Germany, Denmark and the US State Department talked for this unknown success story (which was completed in October 2016) and compared it to the earlier Syria mission. 


Video link


U.S. Department of State​ represented by:

Mallory Stewart, State Department- Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance​

Simon G. Limage, State Department- Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation​


S.G. Limage at time point 12:41 on how the threat was assessed and what tools were used to address it.


M. Stewart said that Libya, a country in turmoil, went out of its way to help the mission, with the Libyan representative at the Hague trying to get approvals in the middle of the night from the Government of National Accord (in order to move the weapons to the port*) as well as to answer responsibly to questions on the nature of the chemicals and how to sample them. This was in sharp contrast with Syria which had to be pressured to accept a similar mission.


*note : with ISIS proximity unknown


Here is the description of the mission from OPCW (latest news and background)

And the relevant OPCW facebook post


#ChemicalWeapons #Libya


Image by State Department- Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance on Twitter





UK Ministry of Defence @DefenceHQ gives @BBCFOUR access to #PortonDown @dstlmod secret weapons research facility




Screening of the BBC Four film Inside Porton Down as a side event to the Eighth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (7th to 25th November 2016)


TOMORROW: Film screening of Inside #PortonDown @ 6PM Room: XXIV @UNGeneva. Side event of #BWCRC8, not to be missed!



 The Eight Review of the Biological Weapons Convention is taking place at UN Geneva from 7th to 25th November 2016.

A very important side event by the UK Mission to the UN Geneva was the screening of the BBC Four film "Inside Porton Down" taking audiences to the UK's most secretive military research base.

Access was granted to the BBC Four by the UK Ministry of Defence:

Here is an excerpt from the film:

Article by The Telegraph

"Porton Down, set in bucolic rolling English countryside, was created 100 years ago in response to the German gas attacks of the First World War."
"At Porton, they rapidly developed and tested new chemical weapons in their own back yard – 7,000 acres of lush countryside. (…) Unfortunately, many of those shells failed to explode, which means the fields are still riddled with missiles containing active chemical agents."

"And it’s not just those around Porton. As part of military training and weapons development, other parts of Britain were also shelled and those shells continue to be dug up on a fairly regular basis."

"Although the scientists at Porton Down created VX, they weren’t the first to make nerve agents. That honour goes to German chemists. In fact, it was only when the Allies were storming triumphantly across Europe in 1945 that they stumbled across Hitler’s previously unsuspected, secret weapon."

"The liquid was a nerve agent, known as sarin, that was never used – perhaps because the Germans feared retaliation."

"Saddam Hussein, however, did not hold back. In March 1988, he ordered the city of Halabja in Northern Iraq shelled with canisters containing chemical agents, including sarin, killing at least 5,000 men, women and children. His forces also used sarin during the Iran-Iraq war."

"More recently, sarin has been used in Syria, most notably in 2013, in an attack in the Ghouta region of Syria. The exact death toll is uncertain, but Porton Down’s expert scientists were the ones who proved that sarin was used."




@infobook tweet

.@BBCFOUR brings audiences to one of UK's most secretive military research bases…


UK Ministry of Defence @DefenceHQ gives @BBCFOUR access to #PortonDown @dstlmod secret weapons research facility…



@infobook tweet

@infobook tweet