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Before Eliminating Syria’s Chemical Weapons, One Must Find Syria’s Chemical Weapons

Most of the world (including the U.S.) seems to be relieved now that there is affirmative progress towards eliminating Syria’s ghastly chemical weapon (CW) stockpiles, thereby avoiding (at least for now) a military strike that no one really wanted to undertake.  The Syrian government has announced that it will soon join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  Joining the OPCW will immediately trigger an obligation on Syria’s part to issue a written declaration identifying the number and types of CWs it currently possesses.  With history as a guide, we can safely predict that it will be an incomplete and inaccurate declaration.  That is true even if Syria fully intends to come clean regarding its CW stockpile.  This is the point where good intentions can go awry.  The problem here is that no one really trusts Syria.  The consequences of such mistrust are informed by experiences in Iraq and Libya over the last 20 years.

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FAS Launches Online Chemical Weapons Convention Archive to Mark 2nd Review Conference

FAS just launched an online compilation of more than 500 documents on the US ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The Archive (http://fas.org/blog/cw) includes a timeline of CWC negotiations, a history of its signing and ratification, and current news and commentary on the CWC.

In addition to the documents, Cheryl Vos, FAS Biology Research Associate, will report daily from The Hague during the Second Review Conference, 7 – 18 April 2008, on the proceedings, plenary sessions and open forum.

cheney letterThe online archive’s “Document of the Day” feature will kick off with a letter submitted by former Secretary of Defense and current Vice President Dick Cheney to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The letter expresses Cheney’s deep opposition to U.S. ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention and was read into the record by former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger who, along with fellow former Secretaries of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Caspar Weinberger, was present at the Committee hearing to provide testimony against the CWC. http://fas.org/cw/cwc_archive/cheneyletter_4-8-97.pdf

The CWC entered into force on April 29, 1997. The archive highlights accomplishments over the past 11 years, and arguments made for and against US ratification in Congress.

Many of the letters, petitions and reports have not been previously available online.

Visit the Chemical Weapons Convention Archive at http://fas.org/blog/cw/.

Iraqi Chemical Weapons Found…at the UN? Don’t Panic!

Hey, we found the Iraqi WMD’s. They were being stored at the UN! I am sure it will be all over the news by tonight, but it is astonishing how fast the press was all over what really amounts to an act of stupidity, and most certainly not a large public hazard. Sure, one can’t even begin to fathom how disorganized the UN must be to actually lose track of vials that contain chemical weapons (even small amounts), but do a few handful of containers with dangerous chemicals that have been stored in a cabinet for over a decade deserve to be a headline story?

The details are not completely clear yet, but it appears as if there were only a few containers of which, at least one contained liquid phosgene. The UN staff learned of the vials on Friday while they were cleaning out storage cabinets, but it took them until Wednesday to figure out what they were, report them and get them out of the building. These containers have been around since 1996 and are not an imminent threat to public safety because of the small amount of agent reported to be in question.

So we are left with the bizarre fact that someone thought it would be OK to store them in a cabinet at the UN and then somehow they lost track of them. It’s embarrassing to the UN, for sure. Fodder for the Tonight Show monologue? Absolutely. The point should be made that chemicals far more dangerous than a few vials of phosgene (or whatever other chemical weapon they contained) are trucked in and out of cities and stored in large quantities every day. It is the aura of their previous purpose that the press finds sexy, not the true threat. Perhaps it is the culture of fear and panic that we have cultivated in the US that I abhor, but I would much rather spend my time avoiding stories about Lindsey and Paris than another over-hyped story about terrorism or media-perceived danger to the citizenry.