Every day brings a new twist to the Syria crisis. Monday, the prime minister defected from the regime. Now, Assad forces have reportedly begun a new offensive in Aleppo (live updates from The Guardian here).
As events unfold, the U.S. and allies are eying Syria’s chemical and biological weapons stockpile with concern. Syria insists that the weapons are secure and that they “will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression.” Whether either of these statements will hold as the situation progresses is unclear.
On top of questions about the regime’s intentions there’s also the question of securing the chemical and biological weapons stockpile in the event of the regime’s fall.
Syria’s chemical arsenal, publicly acknowledged by a government official for the first time just a few weeks ago, includes several hundred tons of blistering agents, large quantities of nerve agents (possibly including VX), and at least four chemical weapon production facilities.
Preventing Syria’s WMD arsenal from falling into terrorist hands if the regime falls would be a daunting task.
Senator Richard Lugar, a leader in nonproliferation efforts for three decades, has a solution to the problem. The senator proposes that the U.S. and Russia work together to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Sen. Lugar’s many contributions to US national security interests are well-known – so well-known, in fact, that ASP recently honored him with first annual Senator Richard Lugar Award for Leadership in National Security.
Sen. Lugar’s work on nonproliferation is particularly noteworthy. After the fall of the Soviet Union he and Sen. Sam Nunn introduced the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to provide U.S. assistance to secure weapons of mass destruction in former Soviet States.
ASP’s Fact Sheet on the Nunn-Lugar CTR program highlights its many achievements, from the deactivation of over 7,500 nuclear warheads to the elimination of more than 900 intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The success of the Nunn-Lugar program was not a given. At the end of the Cold War, the idea of providing former Soviet states with financial and technical assistance was bold. Many doubted the program would succeed.
The same can be said for Sen. Lugar’s plan for securing Syria’s chemical weapons. It’s a bold idea. With election-year rhetoric straining U.S.-Russia ties, cooperation seems unlikely.
But the plan could work. As Sen. Lugar said, “The threats might be to both of our countries from elsewhere. That’s what I am suggesting as maybe a new chapter in our cooperative threat reduction – that we think about our abilities really to be helpful to each other, but also the rest of the world.”
After all, if anyone knows about developing effective plans to secure weapons of mass destruction, it’s Senator Lugar.