Login/Logout

*
*  

ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Syria
Share this

Updated: June 2017

Syria is a non-nuclear weapons state with an advanced chemical weapons program and a suspected biological weapons capability. Due to its past interest in acquiring a nuclear capability and since destroyed plutonium reactor, it poses a nuclear proliferation risk. It has a missile inventory of short-range ballistic and cruise missiles that has decreased significantly since the start of the civil war.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Chemical Weapons

  • The Arsenal, an Overview
  • Chemical Weapons Use and International Response

Biological Weapons

Missiles

  • Ballistic Missiles
  • Cruise Missiles

Past Nuclear Weapon Program Proliferation Record

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Additional Resources on Syria

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1969

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

---

---

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

---

---

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

---

---

Chemical Weapons Convention

____

2013*

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

---

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

---

*Syria sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary General on September 12, 2013, which said that Assad signed a presidential decree allowing Syria's accession to the CWC. Normally, the treaty enters into force 30 days after the deposit of the instrument of ratification, but Syria indicated in the letter that it would begin implementation of the treaty's obligations immediately.

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Not a member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Not a member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Not a member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Not a member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Syria has not negotiated such an agreement

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Not a participant

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Not a participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Not a participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

Syria has filed reports on its activists to fulfill the resolutions

Chemical Weapons

The Arsenal, an Overview

  • In July 2012, the Syrian government publicly acknowledged the existence of its chemical stockpile for the first time. The spokesman said Syria would only use such weapons in the event of foreign intervention in the armed conflict between the government and domestic opposition forces.
  • According to a 2011 report to Congress, on the acquisition of technology relating to WMDs, the National Director of Intelligence said that Syria’s stockpile is deliverable by “aerial bombs, ballistic missiles, and artillery rockets.”
  • Syria committed to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpile when it joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 but experts are skeptical that Syria declared all of its weapons for elimination.

Chemical Weapon Use and International Response

  • The Syrians have used chemical weapons including sarin, chlorine gas, and sulfur mustard, throughout the duration of the Syrian civil war. Despite international efforts to control and eliminate Syria’s stockpile, reports continue to surface of chemical weapon use.
  • In March 2013, after reports of three instances of chemical weapons use, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon established the OPCW Fact Finding Mission to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but not to determine who was responsible for the attacks.
  • On August 21, 2013, reports indicated that a large chemical weapons attack took place in the suburbs of the Ghouta region, an area controlled by rebel fighters. Estimates place the number of casualties at well over 1,000 and many of the victims as non-combatants.
  • Amid calls for military intervention in response to chemical weapons use in Ghouta, in September 2013, Russia proposed eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and having Syria join the CWC in exchange for no U.S. military strikes.
  • In September 2013, Syria sent a letter to the UN declaring it had acceded to the CWC. It submitted a declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile, amounting to about 1,300 tons of 20 different chemicals, as well as 12 chemical weapons storage facilities, and a plan for elimination shortly thereafter.
  • The OPCW found in 2015 that Syria had not declared the entirety of its chemical weapons stockpile in 2013, after reports of chemical weapons use continued to surface in 2014.
  • UN Security Council Resolution 2235, adopted August 7, 2015, established the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism to determine the entities responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. 
  • On January 4, 2016, the OPCW declared that all declared Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles had been destroyed. 
  • In August 2016, the third report of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism found that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks in April 2014 and in March 2015 and that the Islamic State was responsible for a chemical weapons attack in August 2015.
  • In April 2017, chemical weapons, likely sarin-filled munitions, were used in an attack that killed dozens of people in Syria’s northern Idlib province, prompting a U.S. strike on a Syrian air base.
  • The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism is continuing to investigate additional attacks and responsible actors.
  • See the Timeline of Syrian Chemical Weapons Activity for more information.

Biological Weapons

  • In July 2012, a spokesman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the country possesses biological warfare materials, but little is known about the extent of the arsenal. As a signatory of the Biological Weapons Convention, possession of biological weapons would be against customary international law.
  • The U.S. Director of National Intelligence’s annual report on the acquisition of materials related to WMD production in 2011 confirms that the country’s biotechnical infrastructure could support the development of biological weapons. 
  • On July 14, 2014, Syria declared the existence of production facilities and stockpiles of purified ricin, although little is known about the continued existence of such facilities in 2017. Ricin is a bio-toxin that is lethal if ingested or inhaled.

Missiles

Ballistic Missiles 

  • Syria’s missile inventory has decreased dramatically since the beginning of the civil war in 2012 and updated information is limited. By 2015, over 90 percent of its missile stockpile had been used, according to an Israeli source.
  • While Syria’s domestic capability to produce liquid-fueled ballistic missiles is improving, it still relies on foreign suppliers, such as Iran and North Korea, for key technology. Reportedly, in the late 1980s, Syria attempted to buy more accurate missiles from China, but there are conflicting reports as to whether or not Beijing ever delivered the weapons.
  • As of August 2012, Syria’s exclusively short-range ballistic missile inventory included:
    • SS-21-B (Scarab-B): Battlefield short-range, road mobile ballistic missile with an estimated range of 120km.
    • SS-1-C (Scud-B): Short-range road mobile ballistic missile with an estimated range of 300km.
    • SS-1-D (Scud-C): Short-range road mobile ballistic missile with an estimated range of 500-700km.
    • SS-1-E (Scud –D): Short-range road mobile ballistic missile with an estimated range of 700km.
    • CSS-8 (Fateh 110A): short-range road mobile ballistic missile with a range of 210-250km.

Cruise Missiles 

  • Syria is known to possess several highly accurate anti-ship cruise missiles that could carry chemical warheads including:
    • SS-N-3B Sepal (SS-C-1B): Submarine-launched cruise missile with an estimated range of 300-400km.
    • SS-N-2C Styx (SS-C-3): Submarine-launched cruise missile with an estimated range of 80km.
    • SS-N-26: Land-launched cruise missile with an estimated range of 300km.

Past Nuclear Weapons Program

  • Syria currently does not possess nuclear weapons or fissile material stockpiles that could be utilized for a nuclear weapons program although it covertly pursued a nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
  • It is widely assumed that Syria cooperated with North Korea to build a reactor that could produce plutonium for weapons. However, an Israeli airstrike destroyed the Dair al Zour facility near Al Kibar in 2007 before it became operational. Syria claims that the destroyed site was not a nuclear facility.
  • Syria does possess a Chinese supplied research reactor that is currently under IAEA safeguards and is estimated to contain less than 1 kilogram of highly-enriched uranium. The IAEA still has unanswered questions about the reactor but has little access to it due first to Syrian resistance and then the civil war.

Proliferation Record

  • Given Syria’s domestic capability to produce ballistic missiles with little foreign assistance and their suspected ties with terrorist organizations, the United States has expressed concern that the country could pose a risk for proliferating its ballistic missiles and technology to others.
  • Syria has also attempted to purchase dual-use materials illicitly to advance its programs. In 2007, a shipment of U.S. origin equipment relevant for testing ballistic missile components was interdicted en route to Syria.
  • It is widely held that Syria acts as a transit country for Iranian armaments to the Shia militant group, Hezbollah, which operates out of southern Lebanon. 
  • Israel accused Syria of supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles, although this has not been confirmed.
  • Given the current armed conflict in Syria, the international community also is concerned that advanced conventional armaments or chemical weapons could be knowingly or unknowingly trafficked out of the country to non-state actors.

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty

  • In 2010, Syria was one of two countries that abstained from voting on the UN General Assembly resolution that urged the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to begin negotiations on “a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices”, or Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Syria was one of seven countries to abstain from a similar UN General Assembly resolution in 2016. 
  • At the 2012 Conference on Disarmament, Syria advocated against negotiating a FMCT, stating that the issue was not ready for negotiations, and that the CD should instead focus on nuclear disarmament.

WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East

  • Syria has consistently supported UN resolutions and NPT actions on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East despite its use of chemical weapons and suspicions about a past covert nuclear weapons program.  

Iran Nonproliferation Act

  • In 2005, the United States added Syria to the Iran Nonproliferation Act, legislation designed to prevent Iran from obtaining technology related to weapons of mass destruction, missiles, and other conventional armaments.

Additional Resources on Syria

1) Factsheet: Timeline of Syria Chemical Weapons Activity 

2) News: U.S. Says Chemical Weapons Used in Syria 

3) News: Plan Set to Rid Syria of Chemical Arms 

Posted: June 26, 2017