Removing Assad’s Chemical Weapons: UN Operations in an Age of Great Power Competition

Wednesday 25th October 2023

St John’s Place, Lower Road, Bemerton, SP2 9NP


The use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war has been a key element of the international geopolitical debate for the past decade. As the first reports of use emerged in 2012, Syria was not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and therefore not subject to that treaty’s inspection and verification regime. After the infamous 2013 nerve agent attacks, and under threat of US & Allied attack, Russia assisted Syria to the negotiation table. Four weeks later, with Assad’s declared arsenal verified and disabled, the process of removal began. Within a year, all that capability had been removed. But subsequent attacks and investigations clearly demonstrated that Syria still possessed, and was willing to employ, chemical weapons.

Jerry Smith was the Head of Operations for the Joint UN team that deployed to verify, disable and remove Assad’s declared arsenal. He outlines how the international community sought to eliminate Syria’s capability, and the key operational issues they faced along the way.

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Jerry Smith was a Sapper EOD (Bomb Disposal) officer in the 1990s. After a few years in commercial EOD and humanitarian de-mining, he took up a management role at Porton Down. Initially focussing on counter-terrorism and the de-militarisation of legacy chemical weapons in the UK, he moved into Counter-Proliferation, working with the Foreign Office in reducing the threat from Biological weapons on the international stage. This led to working in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as a weapons inspector. He led field operations for the initial missions and was subsequently the Deputy Head of Mission to verify, disable and remove Assad’s declared chemical arsenal. He is now a partner at a London-based specialist risk consultancy business and lives in the Chalke Valley.