Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day the world learned that the Syrian regime had killed over 1,000 innocent Syrians in attacks using sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. These ruthless attacks were the deadliest use of chemical weapons since Saddam Hussein’s 1988 attack on Halabja. President Obama, who called the assault an “attack on human dignity,” in the aftermath was resolute, committing to deter the Syrian regime from again using chemical weapons, degrade its ability to do so, and make clear to the world that the United States would not tolerate the use of these abhorrent weapons. Over the next several months, the United States worked closely with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the UN Security Council, and international partners to execute this mission.
One year later, as we somberly reflect on the horrors of Ghouta, we should be proud of the leading role the United States played in the international effort to remove and eliminate almost 1,300 metric tons of Syria’s declared chemical weapons. A crucial element to this process was a U.S. ship, the M/V Cape Ray, which completed neutralization this week of the most lethal of the regime’s declared chemical weapons. In particular, the efforts aboard the M/V Cape Ray were a clear testament to the innovative workforce and technological and scientific excellence of the Department of the Army, which oversaw the destruction efforts. The achievement we marked earlier this week would not have been possible without these unique capabilities or the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which provided the funding. These efforts—in concert with those of our international partners—reinforce the message that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated in the 21st century.
As the President noted earlier this week, serious questions remain about the omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s chemical weapons declaration to the OPCW as well as about continued allegations of use. These concerns must be addressed, and we will remain insistent that the Assad regime resolve these open issues, even as we press for an end the horrific atrocities it continues to commit against its people.
Liz Sherwood-Randall is the White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Arms Control. Laura Holgate is the NSC Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism and Threat Reduction.