What Nuclear Weapons in Iran and Chemical Weapons in Syria Have in Common

What Nuclear Weapons in Iran and Chemical Weapons in Syria Have in Common

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

As the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) move ahead with their plans to dispose of the Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons, the truly frightening question is now beginning to emerge. Having apparently successfully eliminated the machinery for fabricating the chemical weapons; having packaged apparently successfully the various chemical weapons prior to their being transported from their site; it now remains only to remove successfully the materiel from Syria!

While the procedures for this disposal have been established, the critical question is whether the chemicals can safely be moved to the disposal ships waiting for them in the Syrian port of Latakia. These ships in turn have a plan for their destruction and disposal.

Specifically, the challenge is how to transport the highly toxic materiel by land across Syria to Latakia without their falling into the hands of anti-Assad forces, radical Islamists, Al Qaeda radicals, or similar other random terrorist groups. All of these non-governmental forces and others would be only delighted to possess chemical materiel with which they could create much mischief; both within Syria and elsewhere.

As is the case in Pakistan, random radical opposition groups represent the greatest regional nuclear threats for the use of WMD’s. In fact like the Pakistanis, the Iranian regime itself is probably unlikely to ever use nuclear weapons despite all the bluster and threatening saber rattling—not that Israel should be placed in a position where it lives constantly with such an existential threat.  The true fear that nuclear weapons might be used, comes from terrorist groups and non-state actors who could steal or otherwise obtain such weapons. Their potential use of nuclear material represents a far greater regional threat. 

Both in Syria and Iran, it is the internal and external radical forces which hold the potential for catastrophic havoc and mischief. With both ideological and religious zeal, the terrorist groups lack any of compunctions which nations possess. They can justify their actions within a small circle of possessed and fanatical leadership.

If the OPCW can successfully move out the Syrian chemicals by the end of December, the first test will have been passed. What unfortunately is clear, is that this is likely to be only the first test in this region.

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