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 2018

Syria is a non-nuclear-weapon 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. The Syrian Civil War, which has been ongoing since 2011, has had a large impact on the country's WMD capabilities, including a reduction of its short-range ballistic and cruise missile inventory, an international spotlight on its arsenal and use of chemical weapons, and a suspected influx of military capabilities.

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 activities 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 eliminating 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.
  • On September 19, 2013, Syria submitted detailed information to the OPCW including the names, types, and qualities of its chemical weapons and then submitted a formal declaration on October 24, 2013. The report declared approximately 1,300 metric tons on 20 different chemicals including sulfur mustard and precursor chemical, twelve storage facilities, and twenty-seven production facilities. 

Chemical Weapon Use

  • The Syrians have used chemical weapons including sarin, chlorine gas, and sulfur mustard, throughout the duration of the Syrian civil war.
  • On April 12, 2018, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused Syria of using chemical weapons at least 50 times since the beginning of the war. Civil Society groups report the number to be much higher, attributing 85 attacks (April 4, 2018) to the Syrian regime or nearly 200 attacks (April 8, 2018) when adding unattributed attacks.
  • 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. As of June 2018, the FFM has investigated over 80 cases of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria since 2014 and established the use of likely use of chemical weapons in 16 instances.
  • 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. The JIM's mandate expired in November 2017 after several attempts to extend it failed. In seven reports, the JIM found Syria responsible for four chemical attacks and ISIS responsible for two chemical attacks.
  • See the Timeline of Syrian Chemical Weapons Activity for more information on chemical weapons use and the international response.

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.
  • 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. 
  • The 2018 U.S. Department of State report on compliance with arms control agreements did not list BWC-related concerns regarding Syria and the last year it was listed was 2015.
  • On July 14, 2014, Syria declared the existence of production facilities and stockpiles of purified ricin, a lethal bio-toxin, although little is known about the continued existence of such facilities in 2018.

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. The country has reportedly been unable to produce any new missiles in the meantime, though it is likely that Iranian and Russian military supplies, possibly including missiles and production facilities, have been moved into Syria.
  • Syria relies on foreign suppliers, such as Iran and North Korea, for key technology to produce liquid-fueled ballistic missiles. 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, as of August 2012, 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.
  • It is widely assumed that Syria cooperated with North Korea to build a reactor that could produce plutonium for weapons. However, an Israeli air strike destroyed the al-Kibar facility in the Deir az-Zour region in 2007 before it became operational. The Israeli Defense Forces confirmed the attack in March 2018. Syria claims that the destroyed facility was not a nuclear reactor.
  • 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.
  • Due to deteriorating security conditions, the agency suspended its physical verification of the reactor in June 2013. Syria invited IAEA inspectors back in February and May 2014, but the agency said in its September 2014 report on the implementation of Syria's safeguards agreement that the agency cannot send inspectors into the country because of the security situation.

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 February 2007, the United States, along with three other countries in the Proliferation Security Initiative, interdicted a shipment of equipment relevant for testing ballistic missile components that was en route to Syria.
  • It is widely held that Syria acts as a transit country for Iranian armaments to Hezbollah, the Shia militant group that operates out of southern Lebanon. 
  • Israel accused Syria of supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles in 2010, 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.  
  • At the 2017 UNGA First Committee, Syria reaffirmed its desire to see a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, stating that Syria’s 2013 accession to the CWC and “destruction” of all weapons “demonstrates its commitment to the establishment of a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction.” Further, Syria expressed “grave” concern over “the obstacles placed by Israel in the way of making the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons.” 

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 22, 2018