The administration of US President Barack Obama will continue to push for a resolution that includes the option of military action if Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government fails to adhere to the US-Russian plan to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control for eventual destruction, US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Friday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week, however, that the threat of the use of force is not acceptable in a resolution, a position in line with Russia’s consistent rejection of outside military intervention in Syria’s civil war.
Rhodes’s comments followed the announcement earlier Friday by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which monitors the global ban on these arms, that Syria had provided it with details of its chemical weapons program.
The destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons would cost up to 1 billion dollars and take about a year. In an interview with Fox News, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Damascus was committed to complying with the Chemical Weapons Convention. He stressed that the Syrian government is ready to cooperate at all stages, but reminded that destroying stockpiles of chemical weapons is “a very complicated operation”. Dr. Ralf Trapp, longtime French expert in disarmament and non-proliferation, talked with the Voice of Russia about the costs of the proposed chemical weapons destruction program and the logistics behind the operation.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that the destruction of the country’s chemical weapons arsenal could cost up to 1 billion dollars. Why does it cost so much?
It is not so easy to answer exactly whether it is going to cost 1 billion or more or less. But it is going to be an expensive undertaking. Destroying chemical weapons is vey risky business, these are very toxic materials that need particular care in handling them, protection of the environment and of the workers and the people who live nearby, such facilities. They are difficult to dismantle, it needs to take special precaution to make sure that none of the chemicals leaks into the water. It is very expensive.
What operations are crucial for conducting Syria’s disarmament of chemical weapons? What is the logistics of removing WMD from Syria?
It depends very much on the natural configuration of the stock pile. The first thing that will happen is there will be a declaration by Syria about its stock pile, where are the chemical weapons, are they weaponized materials, are they in container storage or is it a mix storage, which agents are involved and how much. Once we have that information, there will be an inspection campaign organized by the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons in Hague, which is the treaty organization of the chemical weapon convention to verify that information and to make sure that we have all the data that we need to then go into the destruction phase and then it depends on all this data.
I can see combination here of different activities, some of the stock piles may have to be consolidated in stock pile locations where you bring several of them together in one point. We may see mobile destruction facilities being used. Some of these facilities did already exist in the past, others have recently been developed, for example in the US and it is also foreseen in the plan that some of the materials may have to be shipped out of Syria and then destroyed as well.
Many experts say that chemical weapons are outdated. Do you agree that sarin is an obsolete weapon?
It depends on what you mean by obsolete. It is clearly an effective military weapon and that is the reason why some countries have acquired these weapons. They are obsolete in the sense that you cannot really use them in a context like in Syria as we’ve seen. You are killing large number of civilians simply because the agent cannot be concentrated in one particular area and stay there. It will be spread with wind, with air and affect other people. So, you effectively are using not just a military weapon but also have enormous numbers of collateral damage to take into account, civilians killed in a process.
How are chemical weapons transported?
That depends. You can move these weapons around because that is what they’ve been designed for. They are military weapons, so they can be trucked away, you have to make special precautions in terms of protecting the transports, you have to be prepared for accidents and things like that when agent get out of transport and you have to decontaminate, you have to protect people. So, it is a complicated logistical operation because these are very dangerous materials but otherwise they can of course be shipped.
Who is ready to accept those chemical arsenals?
That is a difficult question. I don’t know the answer to that. I know that Russia has an active destruction program ongoing at this moment and so in theory some of these weapons or materials could be shipped to Russia and destroyed there. The other possible candidate is the USA, they also have an ongoing destruction program but there are, as I understand it a number of legal problems that would have to be addressed if they want to actually ship chemical weapons into the US and destroy them there. I think that we will also see some destructions operations actually ongoing in Syria itself. And as I said there have been developments recently to come up with new technologies that can be set up on site relatively quickly and then use to destroy weapons without having to move them out of the country.
How and where can chemical weapons be utilized?
I don’t think anybody at this moment has a very clear idea whether it will take 9 months, 12 months or a little longer or a little less because this plan was developed quite quickly. And if you look back at the history of the destruction of chemical weapons in other countries every single plan that we’ve seen in the past has experienced delays and problems, it is a difficult undertaking in the first place. So, we will see how they go but I think what is important at this stage is to start the process, to make sure that we get a clear picture of how many weapons and where these are and then start the process of destroying them and then we will see how long it takes.
Voice of Russia, RIA