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Chemical Weapons in Syria 

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The ongoing conflict in Syria is remarkable on several levels, not least of which because it is the first civil war in history to occur in a WMD-armed state. Syria is believed to possess one of the largest and most sophisticated chemical weapons programs in the world.

Typically divided into seven categorical agent types, Syria is widely believed to possess blistering agents (mustard sulfur) and nerve agents—specifically sarin and VX (the latter is the most toxic chemical agent).  Syria is one of the few countries that is not a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention (an agreement which outlaws the production, possession and use of chemical weapons).

For the past year, concerns were voiced that terrorist organizations or other violent non-state actors could acquire these deadly agents in the event of state collapse. The Assad regime is accused of used sarin against opposition forces on three separate occasions, with the most recent incident on August 21, 2013 in which a chemical weapon attack in Damascus killed 1,429 people.  


September 17, 2013: "Before Eliminating Syria's Chemical Weapons, One Must Find Syria's Chemical Weapons"

September 5, 2013: "Recognizing A New Paradigm? The Syrian Civil War And Weapons Of Mass Destruction"

August 29, 2013: The Hill, "Syria's Age-Old Question"

August 26, 2013: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "The Chemical Weapons Of Syria"

July 22, 2013: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "Lessons Unlearned"

April 30, 2013: CNN-Global Public Square, "U.S. Kicks Syria Chemical Weapons Can Down The Road"

March 26, 2013: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "The Thin Red Line"

December 6, 2012Foreign Policy"Why Assad Won't Use His Chemical Weapons"

March 1, 2012: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "Fearful of a Nuclear Iran? The Real WMD Nightmare is Syria"

Chemical Weapons


Table of Agents

Delivery Methods

Sarin Fact Sheet

Chemical Weapons Convention

Chemical Weapons Convention Text

Geneva Protocol of 1925

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

Sarin and Non-State Actors

Richard Danzig, Marc Sageman, Terrance Leighton, Lloyd Hough, Hidemi Yuki, Rui Kotani and Zachary M. Hosfor, “Aum Shinrikyo Insights Into How Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons,” Centers for a New American Security, July 2011.

Amy Smithson and Leslie-Anne Levy, “Ataxia: The Chemical and Biological Terrorism Threat and The US Response,” Stimson Report 35. October 09, 2000.

U.S. Military Studies

Frederick R. Sidell, Ernest T. Takafuji and David R. Franz, "Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare," Office of the Surgeon General, Department of the Army, United States of America,1997.

Congressional Research Service Reports

Chemical Weapons: A Summary Report of Characteristics and Effects (September 13, 2013)

Syria: Overview of the Humanitarian Response (September 4, 2013)

Possible U.S. Intervention in Syria: Issues for Congress (September 3, 2013)

Syria's Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress (July 30, 2013)

Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response (June 14, 2013)

Chemical Weapons: A Summary Report of Characteristics and Effects (December 13, 2012)