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U.N. Official: Syria Chemical Weapons Ended through Global Endeavor

October 1, 2014 – The elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons was “a huge international endeavor,” United Nations Under Secretary General Sigrid Kaag said at a talk last night sponsored by the School of Foreign Service’s Security Studies Program.

“The biggest challenge and concern was security, risk and threat, the tremendously volatile security conditions in-country, where no one is safe,” said Kaag, special coordinator of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-United Nations Joint Mission. 

The use of chemical weapons by Syria against its own people in August 2013 led to the recent consensus decision by OPCW, which Kaag heads, and a U.N. resolution that imposed legally binding obligations on Syria to fully cooperate in eliminating its chemical weapons program.

Unity of Purpose

“What was a big factor of success is the continued unity of purpose and voice of the [U.N.] Security Council,” she explained. “…member states quickly put the resources and assets where they were needed. This is one of the few U.N. operations in particular that was not short of funding – this was never in question.”

One of the major successes of the mission, she said, was that no personnel were badly injured or killed.

SFS Associate professor Colin Kahl, recently tapped to serve as Vice President Biden’s new National Security Advisor, moderated the talk.

Three-Phased Mission

“The elimination of Syrian weapons of mass destruction is a good thing,” Kahl said. “It leaves the region safer than before.”

The mission had three phases, according to Kaag. The first identified every site that Syria had chemical weapons stored.

The second phase centered destroying the chemical weapon material and third phase involved destruction of the materials at sea.

Diplomacy Vs. Force

“Our happiest moment was when we’d see these ships come because we’d know the next shipment was about to leave the country,” Kaag said.

Kahl moderated questions from the audience and concluded with an appreciation of Kaag’s team for the ability to complete their tasks and do it on time.

“Whatever one thought about the wisdom or not of using military force at that time, it would not have destroyed the chemical weapons to nearly the degree that the diplomatic outcome did,” he said.