by Ethel C. Fenig
Adding to the worries about Iran's nuclear developments and now the fate of nuclear material in civil war wracked Libya is the status of other weapons of mass destruction(WMDs)--chemical weapons.
Both Syria and Libya possess them; however under Syria's Bashar al Assad and Libya's Moammar Khadaffi, brutal as they were, they controlled their chemical weapons. What will happen if and when the revolutionaries take over is uncertain and therefore frightening.
In an important analysis in Foreign Policy, Leonard Specter discusses
Syria is one of a handful of states that the U.S. government believes possess large stocks of chemical agents in militarized form -- that is, ready for use in artillery shells and bombs. The arsenal is thought to be massive, involving thousands of munitions and many tons of chemical agents, which range, according to CIA annual reports to Congress, from the blister gases of World War I -- such as mustard gas -- to advanced nerve agents such as sarin and possibly persistent nerve agents, such as VX gas.
In the hands of Assad -- and his father Hafez before him -- these weapons have been an ace-in-the-hole deterrent against Israel's nuclear capability. The Assad regime, however, has never openly brandished this capability: It did not employ chemical weapons in the 1982 Lebanon War against Israel, even after Israeli warplanes decimated the Syrian Air Force. Nor have they been deployed, or their use threatened, in attempting to bring Assad's current domestic antagonists to heel. And although Syria is accused of providing powerful missiles to Hezbollah, including some of a type that carried chemical warfare agents in the Soviet arsenal, Assad has not reportedly transferred lethal chemical capabilities to the Lebanon-based Shiite organization.
So despite their many faults and deplorable record on human rights, the Assads have treated their chemical arsenal with considerable care. But as the country potentially descends into chaos, will that hold true?"
Specter analyzes several possible scenarios.
"If anti-Assad insurgents take up arms, the chemical sites, as symbols of the regime's authority, could become strategic targets. And, if mass defections occur from the Syrian army, there may be no one left to defend the sites against seizure. This could lead to disastrous outcomes, including confiscation of the chemical weapons by a radical new national government or sale of the weapons as war booty to organized nonstate actors or criminal groups.
In such chaos, no one can predict who might control the weapons or where they might be taken. With these chemical weapons in the hands of those engaged in a possible civil war, the risks that they would be used would increase substantially. The problem would be worsened further if some possessors were not fully aware of the extent of the weapons' deadly effects.
And let's imagine that Assad is eventually removed: What leaders would gain control of these weapons after he departed? Saudi-backed Sunni groups? Iranian-backed Shiite organizations? Whoever they might be, it is unclear that the newcomers would follow the Assads' cautious-use doctrine and refusal to share chemical weapons with nonstate groups, or that the new leaders would be able to maintain strict security measures at the chemical sites.
Meanwhile, it's possible that an existential threat will cause the Assad regime to abandon its previous policy of restraint regarding chemical weapons. It is not a huge leap from attacking civilians with tank fire, machine guns, and naval artillery to deploying poison gas, and the shock effect and sense of dread engendered by even limited use could quash a citywide uprising within an hour."
And what can the US do about this? Very little, according to Specter.
"The options available to the United States to minimize these risks are limited at best."
Writing in Israel's YNet News, Yitzhak Benhorin reports on Libya's WMDs.
"Western analysts believe that the country's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) arsenal alone contains some 10 tons of various chemical agents which can inflict grave damage. It is also believed that Gaddafi was in possession of Scud-B missiles, over 1,000 tons of uranium powder and mass quantities of conventional weapons."
As part of a normalization process with the US, Khadaffi had agreed to and signed an agreement under President George W. Bush (R) destroying its WMDs, even sending the US blueprints of the country's nuclear infrastructure and also destroying several thousand aircraft and long range missiles. In addition
"In 2004 Tripoli joined the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) yet US sources claim that Libyan plans to halt production of chemical weapons and destroy chemical weapons arsenals were held up due to disputes between Libya and the US over funding an logistics."
Again the question, what can the US do about this?
"The Americans and their NATO partners are observing Libya via satellite, drones and other aircraft used to gather intelligence. The US and other countries also have intelligence personnel placed on the ground in Libya, tasked with aiding Libyan opposition factions in securing the chemical weapons' sites.
It is possible that NATO has personnel placed within the arsenals themselves, though this has not been confirmed."
Again, not much the US can do although probably more than in Syria.
And of course much is happening quietly, secretly.hat tip: www.dailyalert.org
Ethel C. Fenig
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