The U.S. has taken on a gargantuan and dangerous task of helping to
destroy Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria. Experts on
chemical weapons proliferation say current deadlines are near impossible
to reach, and the danger of transporting and eliminating the weapons in
a bloody and convoluted conflict could drag the U.S. into the ongoing
The Pentagon announced this week its tentative schedule for
destroying the regime’s stockpiles of mustard gas, sarin gas and VX,
along with their components.
The first phase involves transporting massive amounts of these
chemicals through an active war zone, in which a multitude of Islamic
extremist groups are openly fighting.
The second requires a yet-unconfirmed country to then transport the
chemicals — eventually occupying roughly 150 shipping containers — to a
yet-undetermined third country, where a specially configured U.S. ship
will pick them up in early January and sail them out to sea where they
will eventually be destroyed.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is
overseeing this mission alongside the U.N., has set a deadline for the
first step by Dec. 31. The entire mission must be completed by the
“OPCW and the U.N. are preparing themselves for their first missed
deadline,” says Brian Finlay, an expert on chemical weapons
proliferation with the Stimson Center. “To assume that weapons are going
to be loaded and out of Syria by the end of this month is virtually
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