Concerns increase over Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles

Key western governments and neighboring countries are concerned about the fate of Syria's major stockpile of chemical weapons if the regime of Bashar al-Assad should fall.

It is believed that the United States is making preparations to secure the deadly weapon stockpiles if the regime is toppled, but the details of such contingency plans are not known. What is known with greater certainty is the scale and scope of the country's chemical weapons program, BBC reports.

"Syria has one of the world's largest chemical weapon arsenals, including traditional chemical agents, such as mustard, and more modern nerve agents, such as Sarin, and possibly persistent nerve agents, such as VX," Leonard Spector, the executive director of the Washington-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said, according to BBC. "Syria is thought to have a number of major chemical weapon complexes, some in areas of current conflict, such as the Homs and Hama regions. The bases are said to be guarded by elite forces, but whether they would stay at their posts if the Assad regime collapses cannot be predicted."

Syria has never joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and as a result has never made any formal declarations of its weapon stocks. Another unknown in the situation is just how the weapons could be deployed.

"Conceivably, the Assad government could use some of these agents against rebel forces or even civilians in an effort to intimidate them into submission," Spector said, according to BBC. "Or insurgents could overrun one of the chemical weapon sites and threaten to use some of these weapons, in extremis, if threatened with overwhelming force by the Syrian army."

One of the most worrisome scenarios is the loss of control of the weapons to al-Qaeda or Hezbollah. Spector said that components of both terrorist organizations are operating in Syria as groups to challenge the power of the Assad regime.