U.N. Begins Process of Destroying Syrian Chemical Weapons

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 6 2013 1:36 PM

U.N. Begins Process of Destroying Syrian Chemical Weapons

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A convoy of United Nations vehicles is seen as a chemical weapons disarmament team arrives in Damascus on October 1

Photo by LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images

International weapons experts began what is expected to be a long, complicated process to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal as well as any machinery that can be used to create them, a United Nations official tells the Associated Press. Under tight deadlines, the experts, who arrived in Damascus Tuesday, will first have to destroy the Syrian regime’s ability to manufacture chemical weapons by Nov. 1. The team charged with the task is made up of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague as well as United Nations personnel, reports Reuters.

While chemical processes will be used to neutralize the chemicals used in the weapons, in this first stage “brute force may be all that is required,” writes the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus. “Key components of production facilities can be smashed or otherwise put out of action. So, too, can filling sites for munitions.” Meanwhile, the empty bomb or shells “can simply be run over with a heavy vehicle.” Considering that some of the 20 chemical weapons sites declared by the government are in combat zones, key challenges lie ahead for the inspectors and some remain skeptical that they will be able to achieve the ambitious goals of destroying the country’s stockpile while working in the middle of a war zone.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.