2013 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: Wed, 11 Sep 2013 14:09:08 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] CHEMWEAPONS: The challenge of destroying Syria's stockpile
The Russian proposal to control and dispose of Syrian chemical weapons has already helped defuse the rush to another American War in the Middle East, and if implemented it should reduce the risk of lethal chemical attacks locally and regionally. While President Obama's threat to attack Syria got everyone's attention, I believe the principal basis of the Russian proposal is Russian self-interest, not the prospect of "limited" cruise missile attacks on the Syrian military.

If the diplomats work out the principles for sequestering and eliminating Syrian chemical warfare materiel, the hard work begins. The destruction of the U.S. chemical stockpile, non-stockpile weapons, and productions facilities has take more than two decades, cost billions of dollars, and remains incomplete. But we've learned a lot in the process.

Technologies exist for safe demilitarization and disposal of both chemical munitions and bulk chemical agent, so in the rush to eliminate these weapons, there is no need to just blow them up. Also, given the both the security and environmental risks, transportation of lethal munitions and agent should be minimized or at least carefully weighed. The immediate task should be to send to Syria proven mobile equipment which can be operated where small stockpiles are located. Then larger fixed facilities, perhaps at the site of Syria's chemical weapons production facilities, should be designed to dispose of larger quantities.

Care should be taken to prevent the release of chemical agent and products of incomplete combustion such as dioxins, as well as to reduce the likelihood of system failure, but no one expects the volume of regulatory paperwork associated with the U.S. destruction program. Again, much has been learned globally over the past two decades about how to safely, if not economically, do away with the chemical threat.

The initial focus should be on chemical munitions and bulk chemical agent, but over time plans must also be made to dismantle production facilities, as well as to dispose of hazardous chemical feedstocks (if they are still present) and the waste products of treatment.

If practical, the Syrian people who live near storage sites, transportation routes, and destruction facilities should be informed and given the opportunity to comment on disposal plans. But in the midst of a vicious civil war, in a county with weak experience in democratic participation, such public participation is probably a pipe dream.

So I suggest that the demilitarization process be transparent in real time, with cameras documenting key activities for either live or delayed streaming to the Internet. Such transparency could establish confidence, globally as well as locally, that Syrian weapons are indeed being destroyed and that the disposal process is not threatening the health and safety of the nearby population. They have enough to worry about.



Lenny Siegel
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
a project of the Pacific Studies Center
278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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