The destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons (CW) stockpile of 30 tonnes of mustard gas and about 1300 tonnes of A & B Precursors (toxic chemicals required to make sarin, mustard gas, etc.) appears to have stalled. Only 15 tonnes have thus far been shipped out of Latakia and nothing has happened for nearly three weeks. The final deadline to remove all of the stockpile from Syria by February 14 is accelerating towards us much faster than the CW is moving to Latakia. After the Syrian Army’s massive effort to get 15 tonnes from near Homs to Latakia earlier this month, the Syrians appear to be unable or unwilling to mount a similar operation to move the rest along this highly contested route. Across Europe there is now consternation that the CW should be transloaded onto the US military ship MV Cape Ray in Italy and growing protest in German (Munster) and the UK (Ellesmere Port) where some of the CW Precursors are due to be destroyed. The Greeks and Maltese are also unhappy with the prospect of the MV Cape Ray–where the most toxic CW and CW Precursors will be destroyed by hydrolysis (mixing with sea water and other chemicals)–doing this task near their territories. It’s not going well and not according to the plan.
If the Syrian regime cannot get the CW out of Syria then a new plan needs to be devised. In fact we now know that there are only 30 tonnes of viable CW in the form of mustard gas and we know that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has verified destruction of all manufacturing and mixing capability in Syria, hence no more CW can be made. Therefore, the P5 and OPCW/UN must start thinking about Plan B, which would be just to destroy the 30 tonnes of mustard gas in Syria and leave all the Precursor chemicals to be dealt with later, because, after all, they are just toxic chemicals and there is probably an incinerator in Syria which could deal with them. Destroying just the mustard gas in Syria would take a few weeks and cost a fraction of the estimated $100m of the current plan. Some would suggest the ‘super tanker’ of the current plan is too far gone to change direction and too inflexible to adjust–this would be unfortunate. With just over 1,500 killed in Syria by CW and 130,000 by conventional weapons, CW must be taken out of the Syrian agenda as quickly as possible by any means–to allow Geneva II and all sides to focus on peace to aid the dreadful suffering of the Syrian people, rather than be held hostage to a few toxic chemicals.