The removal of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile had reached a half-way point: to date, many tons of chemicals have been removed, including Syria’s entire stockpile of sulfur mustard gas.
Last August, the Syrian government attacked the civilian population of the Damascus suburb of Ghouta with chemical weapons, killing hundreds of people and injuring several thousand more: an act that was immediately and universally condemned.
There is good reason why Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons was met with such revulsion: once poison gas is released, its dispersal is impossible to control, poisoning every creature in its path, and killing indiscriminately.
First used by both sides during World War One, these weapons cause horrible suffering, and those who survive an attack are frequently disfigured, often crippled for life.
Thus, the international community banned the use of chemical weapons in war through the implementation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, and later established the sweeping prohibitions mandated by the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, and transfer of chemical weapons.
It is no wonder then, that the Ghouta incident caused the United States and Russia, who frequently do not see eye to eye when it comes to the Syrian conflict, to meet in mid-September at a summit in Geneva in order to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov subsequently announced the “Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons," which calls for the elimination of Syria's chemical weapon program in the first half of 2014. As Secretary Kerry said at the time, "the United States and Russia are committed to the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in the soonest and safest manner."
On March 24th, Secretary Kerry announced that the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile had reached a half-way point: to date, many tons of chemicals have been removed, including Syria’s entire stockpile of sulfur mustard gas. As well, Syria has destroyed some of its declared chemical facilities.
However, Syria has dragged its feet and missed key removal deadlines set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an intergovernmental organization that is overseeing the operation. Syria can and should accelerate its efforts and live up to its commitments to transport chemicals to the coast for removal and destruction.
And yet, even as the destruction of these weapons diminishes the possibility of a similar attack by the Assad regime in the future, Syria’s civil war continues. So far, 140,000 Syrians have died. Today, instead of using chemical weapons, Syrian government forces destroy their own people with barrel bombs, tanks, and heavy artillery. There is no end in sight.