If it were being done entirely in secret, it would be history’s greatest international spy thriller. The world’s biggest global players, not all of them exactly friendly, have to cooperate to pull off the impossible: collect and destroy Syria’s vast stores of chemical weapons. And as fast as possible.
The world this week learned some of the details of the otherwise classified plan to rid Syria of its wildly dangerous stockpile — including the target deadline of Dec. 31, 2013, by which these world powers aim to have removed all chemical weapons from Syrian soil.
While the Syrian government has agreed to the plan (PDF), devised by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, seeing it through remains no easy task. Director-General of the OPCW Ahmet Uzumcu admitted in a press conference this week that there are any number of ways the plan to move and disarm the substances could go awry.
The weapons — 1,300 tons' worth of deadly chemicals — first have to be collected from 12 different sites around the capital of Damascus. The chemicals then need to be very cautiously loaded onto trucks and moved 200 miles to the western port city of Latakia. This will be made especially tense by the heavy fighting raging along the main highway, as well as the presence of any number of criminal and terrorist groups who might target the convoy. Once they reach Latakia, the chemicals must be transferred to ships and sailed out of Syrian territory to a variety of places where they can be effectively destroyed.
To pull all of this off, without losing any of the weapons, a diverse group of nations will be involved. It might be one of the greatest examples of international cooperation since the Coalition of the Willing invaded Iraq (that’s a joke).
Here’s a look at who’s involved and how.
1. The United States
The US ship that will help destory Syria's chemical weapons. (AFP/Getty Images)
Never to be outdone, the United States has perhaps the largest role in the operation. It is supplying 3,000 container drums to store the chemicals, as well as loading, transportation, and decontamination equipment. The United States will also provide GPS locators that will let unnamed authorities track the chemicals.
The most dangerous chemicals will be destroyed aboard a US ship. American authorities have offered up the MV Cape Ray, a 700-footer outfitted with a machine that will render the chemicals inert.
Chinese sailors in Beijing, China. (AFP/Getty Images)
China, which has consistently called for a political rather than military solution to the conflict in Syria, will provide naval protection for the MV Cape Ray as it destroys the worst of the chemicals. Given the current state of US-China relations, this is no minor thing.
"China hopes that the relevant work on removing Syria's chemical weapons can be completed safely and smoothly. This will assist in pushing for a political resolution to the Syrian issue, will assist in increasing regional peace and stability and accords with the interest of all sides," a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said Thursday.
China will also provide surveillance cameras (of course) and 10 ambulances.
Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, said it would provide large armored trucks to help move the chemicals overland to the port of Latakia. It will also provide water tanks and other logistical supplies. Russia may also participate in the security operation around the port as the cargo is loaded onto ships.
4. Denmark, Finland and Norway
Norwegian marines protecting a naval frigate bound for Syria. (AFP/Getty Images)
To move the chemicals out of Syrian territory, Denmark and Norway have offered two navy frigates, additional cargo vessels and military escorts. There will be two phases, with the first moving the most harrowing chemicals out to sea, where all 500 tons will be destroyed by hydrolysis. The ships will then return to the port to pick up the 800 tons of less dangerous weapons. Finland will provide an emergency response team made up of experts on chemical attacks.
An Italian port at sunset. (AFP/Getty Images)
While Italy won’t be participating in the actual operation, it has agreed to allow the Norwegian and Danish ships to use one of its ports to transfer the toxins to the United States' MV Cape Ray. Italy has not indicated, likely for security reasons, which port that will be.
Japan, pending parliamentary approval, will offer up to $15 million to help pay for it all.
7. Everyone else
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) director-general Ahmet Uzumcu. (AFP/Getty Images)
The Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, Italy, Norway, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Turkey, and the UK have all offered the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons money to pay for the operation — to the tune of $13.5 million.