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Wanted: Offers to destroy Syria's chemical arms

According to a UN resolution, Syria's chemical weapons must be taken out of the country and destroyed. But where? No country has yet declared its readiness to take on either task.

Preparations for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles are on course to meet the UN's deadline: of the 23 sites where the country's chemical weapons were located, all but one have been visited by inspectors. 60 percent of the unfilled munitions equipment as well as the mixing and filling equipment used to produce chemical weapons has already been destroyed.

"But now the real work will begin," says chemical weapons expert Ralf Trapp, who worked for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for many years.

That's because 1,000 tons of chemical weapons have yet to be destroyed, an operation that seems more difficult than initially predicted, because the toxic agents need to be transported out of Syrian territory first. But the question is, where should they go?

The OPCW has now at least conceived a detailed timeline for the mission, and concrete milestones to achieve along the way. According to the Director General of the OPCW, Ahmed Üzümcü, the most dangerous toxic agents - sarin and mustard gas - are supposed to be transported out of the country by the end of the year and destroyed by April 2014. All other dangerous chemicals and preliminary products of the chemicals are supposed to be out of the country by February 5, 2014 and destroyed by the end of June 2014. According to UN resolution 2118, the entire chemical weapons arsenal is supposed to have been destroyed by then.

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Director General Ahmet Uzumcu speaks during a news conference in The Hague October 11, 2013. The OPCW, which is overseeing the destruction's of Syria's arsenal, won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee on Friday. Set up in 1997 to eliminate all chemicals weapons worldwide, its mission gained critical importance this year after a sarin gas strike in the suburbs of Damascus killed more than 1,400 people in August. REUTERS/Michel Kooren (NETHERLANDS - Tags: POLITICS CONFLICT)

OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü has presented a timeline for Syria's chemical weapons

190 potential destinations

But no country has yet declared its willingness to destroy Syria's chemical weapons on its national territory. Just like Norway and Belgium before it, Albania has now also turned down the American appeal to destroy the agents on its territory, with Albanian authorities officially stating that they do "not have the capacity" to perform the operation. Albania had previously offered to destroy the weapons, but withdrew its offer in the face of nation-wide protests. Albania was given particular consideration because it destroyed its own chemical weapons stockpiles from communist times in 2007.

Any country that has signed the chemical weapons convention can offer its help - that makes 190 countries. Sausan Ghosheh, the spokeswoman for the OPCW's Syria mission, said that the organization was initially conducting talks with the 41 members of the executive council of the organization. The organisation has already asked France for assistance.

"The main countries that are of interest are the ones that have themselves had to deal with the destruction of chemical weapons in recent years," said Trapp.

Germany wants to help - but not within its borders

Albanians took to the streets to protest the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons in their country on 14.11.2013. (Photo: Andi Agaraj)

The Albanian population protested the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons within their country

Germany also has facilities to incinerate chemical weapons and munitions. Between 2006 and 2012, 2,585 tons of warfare material was destroyed on the site of the company Geka in Münster, which specializes in the disposal of chemical and warfare agents.

"But only historical chemical warfare agents from the world wars can be destroyed there. And no nerve agents can be destroyed there - and those make up a significant proportion of the weapons in Syria," Trapp told DW. Mustard gas could be destroyed at Geka, however.

In fact, Germany does have companies that have the right technology at their disposal, such as the company Eisenmann, which has facilities for the destruction of chemical weapons in Russia, Albania and Japan.

That expertise is now being offered. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: "Germany is prepared to provide technical, logistical and financial support for the destruction of the chemical weapons."

But he has not given the go-ahead for the operations to take place in Germany. "All I'm saying is that from our point of view the question 'in Germany?' is not up for discussion, because in our view there are far more appropriate regions and means," said Westerwelle.

A rebel fighter points his weapon as he stands amidst rubble and debris during clashes with Syrian government forces. (Photo: Ahmad Aboud / AFP / Getty Images)

The civil war raging in Syria could make moving the chemical weapons dangerous

Geographical location important

Westerwelle didn't mention which regions he was referring to. According to security expert Oliver Meier from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, the choice of country is also influenced by its geographical location, since it is preferable to avoid transporting the weapons by land.

"We are talking about very dangerous agents here; their transport and destruction carries serious health and environmental risks. That is why many countries are shying away," says Oliver Meier. But there are also administrative obstacles, such as the fact that US law prohibits transporting chemical weapons through the country.

The OPCW is currently not only looking for countries that can destroy the agents on their territory, but also for countries who will aid in their transportation through Syrian war zones. Moving Syrian chemical weapons will not only require decontamination equipment, but also soldiers that have been specially trained for how to handle an accident. Medical staff must also be present in case of an emergency.

Fears that not all of the chemical weapons will be transported out and that some of the agents will remain in Syria have been expressed in neighboring Jordan. The German Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance has now been assigned with training Jordanian planners and doctors for emergencies and supporting them financially.

Trapp thinks that there will be a "patchwork solution," in which several countries play a part in the destruction of the dangerous agents. Oliver Meier is confident that ultimately countries will agree to help. "Otherwise it would be truly ironic: you invest so much political capital in order to get an agreement with Assad, and then no one is prepared to transport the weapons out of the country and destroy them."

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