Here's what the world can do about the country's potentially-lose stockpiles as the conflict intensifies.
Warnings by the United States and other countries threatening the Syrian regime with dire consequences if chemical weapons are used against rebel forces may have had the intended effect. Recent media reports suggest this concern has now diminished. It is just as plausible, however, that the regime had little intention of using its chemical weapons but fabricated the preparations that prompted the warnings to deter outside intervention in Syria's civil war.
Either way, it is wrong to assume the danger of chemical weapons use in Syria is receding. Indeed, there are good reasons to believe it could grow in the coming weeks and months.
Syria, which is not a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention, is widely believed to possess sizeable stocks of different kinds of chemical weapons (CRS)--principally nerve (Sarin, VX) and blister (mustard gas) agents--that have been weaponized into bombs, artillery shells, and possibly warheads for delivery by missiles. How quickly this arsenal could be employed today is unclear from public reports, but it is prudent to believe that some, if not all of it, is operationally ready. Although the fighting to date has more than demonstrated the lethality of conventional weapons, the use of chemical agents would represent a significant escalation of the violence with potentially mass casualty consequences. It would also breach an international norm against the use of chemical weapons that is important to maintain.