How to disarm a dictator: Chemical weapons expert explains steps to stripping Assad’s arsenal

Martha Raddatz, Richard Coolidge & Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
How to disarm a dictator: Chemical weapons expert explains steps to stripping Assad’s arsenal

On the Radar

When chemical weapons expert Joe Cirincione first heard that the United States and Russia were working on an agreement to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons, his reaction was shock.

“Nobody thought this was possible,” Cirincione, the president of the global securities foundation Ploughshares Fund, told “On the Radar.”

“On Monday morning, Syria was denying having chemical weapons, and by Monday evening, they were saying they were going to turn them over,” he said. “By Tuesday, they said they were going to sign the treaty banning all chemical weapons.”

Though the United States and Russia have yet to negotiate the precise terms of a plan to strip Assad of his chemical weapons – and with Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Russian counterparts in Geneva to test the veracity of Russia’s proposed diplomatic solution – Cirincione said that if Assad does, in fact, turn over his weapons, it would be a “huge step.”

“The mere act of turning them over and getting them under international control takes them away from Assad,” he said. “You've accomplished one of your major strategic objectives.”

Once a deal is reached, then comes the challenge of actually getting United Nations inspectors safely into Syria in the midst of civil war.

“This is the most daunting aspect of this challenge,” Cirincione said. “The very first thing is getting inspectors safely in, and that probably requires negotiation of a no-fire zone around the storage depots between the government and the rebels.”

Actually destroying the chemical weapons arsenal, Cirincione said, could be a years-long process, depending on whether the chemicals are already mixed and loaded into weapons or not.

“If they’re still separated in their component parts, then it will be fairly easy to get rid of them. They’re basically the equivalent of anti-freeze that you could throw on the ground and destroy,” he said. “If they are actually weaponized, in a bomb or a warhead, then you have to separate the chemical agent from the explosive material. That's tricky.”

To hear more about how an agreement to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons would actually work, and to hear how effective such an agreement would likely be, check out this episode of “On the Radar.”

ABC’s Brian Hartman, Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Hank Brown and John Knott contributed to this episode.