The dreadful, brutal Syrian civil war has consumed thousands of lives, turned millions into refugees and spread to Iraq – but there is one faint but real gleam of hope that has come out of the conflict.
Last week, the final stocks of chemical weapons formerly held by the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad began to be destroyed at sea not far from Italy on an American government container ship. The Damascus regime no longer has any chemical arms, at least as far as is known to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
It is also remarkable that the United States and Russia co-operated to press the Syrian government to give up its chemical weapons, in the midst of a conflict in which these two major powers are aligned with opposite sides. Disputes over Ukraine have not prevented them from working together to help enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war was detected in an attack on a suburb of Damascus in August, 2013. The Syrian government was slow to admit its possession of the weapons of mass destruction, but did so under pressure from the great powers. It is possible that it may still be holding onto some undisclosed stocks.
The removal of the known stockpiles from Syria in late June was two months behind schedule. But the reason for the delay was not only foot-dragging by Mr. al-Assad’s government. It is no easy matter to move weapons of mass destruction through a war zone. In fact, this has never been accomplished before, and the OCPW deserves great praise.
All this is little comfort to the people of Syria, those who are still in the country and the vast numbers that are refugees outside of it. In Syria, people are exposed, among other horrors, to “barrel bombs” dropped by helicopters, which are filled with shrapnel and kill indiscriminately by exploding in unpredictable directions. The end of the civil war is not in sight.