Germany's Chemical Weapons Expertise


DAMASCUS/BERLIN (Own report) - German government advisors are calling for German Bundeswehr participation in an eventual UN mission in Syria. Such a mission could become necessary in the framework of the disposal of Syria's chemical weapons to provide, for example, protection for UN inspectors carrying out their on-the-spot activities, explain foreign policy specialists. The Bundeswehr should be available for such a mission, according to the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Current reports depict the military environment of an eventual mission: approx. 40 percent of the insurgent militias in Syria are Salafists, some of whom (al Qaeda) have won global notoriety through their attacks on Western targets. Most recent indications point to the implication of German companies having possibly participated in the establishment of Syrian facilities for the production of chemical weapons. Last week, the German government admitted to the delivery of chemicals that would be necessary for the production of chemical weapons.

Balance of Power in Syria

According to numerous observers, the overall situation in the Syrian war is a "stalemate." Government troops control the areas surrounding Damascus, as well as the coast along with other areas around the cities of Homs and Hamah. Kurdish militias control large portions of the Northeast. Sunnite militias are the strongest forces in the north and in the east of Syria, as well as areas of the south. Combat is no longer only being waged between government troops and insurgents, but to a growing extent, also between irregular troops of the Salafists against those of the non-Salafists, thereby complicating the contours of the frontlines. The balance of power between the insurgents provides a clear indication of the future Syria can expect, should the government be overthrown. According to a recent study published by the IHS Jane's, of the approx. 100,000 militiamen fighting currently against the government in Damascus, around 12,000 belong to al Qaeda and affiliated groups of this terrorist network, such as the Jabhat al Nusra or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Around 30,000 belong to Salafist militias such as the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), whose activities are limited to Syria, and another 30,000 - 40,000 are thought to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Non-Islamist oriented insurgents are estimated to be at around 25,000, at the most. The regions under Kurdish control must be separately accounted for, however, their 10,000 militiamen can be also attributed to the secular groups.[1]

Berlin's Role

This is the situation forming the backdrop for current considerations about how the stocks of Syrian chemical weapons should be disposed of and what could be the German contribution. Foreign Minister Westerwelle had declared on September 14 that in "the disposal" of the stockpile, Germany could "play an important role." "Over the past few years, we have demonstrated that Germany has a special expertise in monitoring and disposing of chemical weapons."[2] As a matter of fact, German facilities participated also in the disposal of Libya's chemical weapons. The country still has large stockpiles. However, what remains to be clarified is whether reports are true that Libyan Islamists have not only handed over conventional but also chemical weapons to the Syrian insurgents. But it is evident that German participation in the disposal of Syrian chemical weapons would strongly strengthen the German position in the Syrian war. Germany would become involved in highly sensitive measures inside the war zone.

A "Protection Force"

A discussion is developing around military measures needed to secure Syria's chemical weapons in the process of their disposal - most likely under UN inspection. "In any case, the inspectors will need security guarantees from the Syrian government," explained the arms control expert, Una Becker-Jakob at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF). In addition, "a sort of international protection force should be made available to the inspectors."[3] It has been announced in Moscow that Russian soldiers could take part in such a "protection force," as well as soldiers from the USA and other unnamed EU member states. A total strength of about 10,000 is conceivable. The delicate nature of this enterprise results, if nothing else, from the fact that according to IHS Janes, around 40,000 Salafist militiamen are in combat, whose specialties include terrorist attacks against Western targets. The - few - UN inspectors, charged with investigating the chemical weapons attack in the vicinity of Damascus, had already come under fire by unknown assailants.

The Next German Intervention

Last week the Director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Volker Perthes, along with two research associates of the institute, Markus Kaim and Oliver Meier, authored an article predicting that soon "awkward questions could be raised in Berlin" - for example - "if German soldiers will contribute to the security of the chemical weapons stocks or in the framework of the UN peace keeping forces." These government advisors plead for the German government "not to turn down such a request."[4] Over the past few years, the SWP has been intensively engaged in supporting the Syrian opposition in exile and in establishing a plan for the post-Assad reorganization of Syria.[5] Should the Bundeswehr accept a mission in Syria, this would be the second Middle East country - after Lebanon - in which German troops are intervening - the batteries of German Patriot missiles stationed in Turkey must also be added. In Lebanon, the Bundeswehr is participating in the creation of a Lebanese Navy and in thwarting illicit weapons deliveries, under UN (UNIFIL) mandate - whereby maritime shipments of Libya's weapons to Syrian insurgents are, in effect, hardly affected.[6]

Delivery of Mixing Vats

According to recent reports, Germany itself may have been involved in creating the cause for this current intervention. The reports indicate that German enterprises may have been involved in the development of Syrian facilities for chemical weapons production. According to a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, published in 2000, German companies had supplied Syria with mixing vats, high temperature furnaces and hot isostatic presses, which could have been used for chemical weapons production. Some of these instruments had enjoyed the security of government "Hermes" export credit guarantees, while some of the companies had already been involved in providing Iraq with equipment for chemical weapons production. The glass producer Schott Glasswerke was among the companies named.[7]

Sold Chemicals

Last week it was made known that, between 2002 and 2006, German companies had delivered chemicals to Syria, which could also have served in the production of chemical weapons. The deliveries began in the year Berlin intensified its cooperation with Syria's repressive forces. At the beginning of 2002, German and Syrian intelligence agencies initiated intensive negotiations on the expansion of their cooperation. These negotiations reached the top levels of the services in the summer of 2002, and in the fall of that year, German officials interrogated a German citizen, imprisoned in one of Syria's infamous torture chambers. ( reported.[8]) From Germany's perspective, one of the most delicate issues involved in the disposal of Syrian chemical weapons is whether UN investigators, soon to arrive in Syria, will be able to discern if Damascus may have used German facilities and chemicals to produce their chemical weapons.

Other reports and background information on Germany's policy toward Syria can be found here: War Threats against Syria, Iran's Achilles Heel, War Scenarios for Syria, War Scenarios for Syria (II), With the UN toward Escalation, Market Economy for Syria, The Yemenite Solution, Smuggle Supervisors, The Day After, The Day After (II), The Day After (IV), The Islamization of the Rebellion, Air Defense for the Exile Leadership, A Proxy War, In Rebel Territory (II), In Rebel Territory (III), The End of Artificial Borders, In Rebel Territory (IV), German War Assistance, Democratic Interventionism, The Rivals' Alliances and The Law of the Jungle.

[1] Rainer Hermann: Die Eigendynamik des Krieges; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 21.09.2013
[2] "Assad muss jetzt Farbe bekennen"; 14.09.2013
[3] "Giftgasattacken lassen sich niemals ausschließen"; 20.09.2013
[4] Markus Kaim, Oliver Meier, Volker Perthes: Ein Plan für Syrien; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 19.09.2013
[5] see also The Day After, The Day After (II) and The Day After (IV)
[6] see also Smuggle Supervisors
[7] Anthony H. Cordesman: Syria and Weapons of Mass Destruction; October 2000
[8] see also Deutsch-syrischer Herbst