“If the inspectors arrive as planned, the Syrian chemical warfare threat should be eliminated by November,” he said.
Zanders said a steam roller or explosives could make short work of the equipment. Trapp said that while the Syrian arsenal, at an estimated 1,000 metric tons, is considered among the world’s largest, it is small enough to suggest that Syria has relatively few machines dedicated to preparing the weapons for use – “as many as tens of production machines” would be a surprise, he said. “Given the size of their arsenal, it is more likely to be a small number,” he said.
“They could, of course, resort to very crude methods of mixing, but with inspectors present this would be very easily detected,” Zanders said.
Still, the experts noted that the longer-term goal of destroying all precursor chemicals as well as weapons that could deliver chemical weapons is a more difficult task.
“It’s difficult to say how well the entire program can be carried out before we have even started,” Zanders said. “There are still great risks, the investigative team will be asked to work in a war zone, more and more rebels appear to be moving towards the extreme Islamist elements, and it is not known whether such elements have an interest in negotiating for the safety of inspectors. Much is still unknown.”
Guthrie noted that, in the end, it isn’t meeting deadlines that really matters.
“The timetable is ambitious, but it needs to be to maintain political focus,” he said. “In a year’s time, or even a decade’s time, the key criterion that will be remembered will be whether chemical weapons were used again in Syria. Whether their destruction occurred by 1 November or 30 November will be far less important.”
Guthrie said he favored a quick timetable, even if some deadlines get missed.
“If the timetable were not so ambitious there would be more room for delays to be introduced,” he said. “Better to have an ambitious timetable that may achieve its ultimate goals a little late than what looks at first glance like a more realistic timetable that is then subject to delays.”