Some good news from the midst of suffering in the Middle East

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced on 23 June that Syria had delivered the last of the chemical containers in the country to the port of Latakia, Syria, from which they can be shipped for destruction. The international community has gone to much effort for this. The OPCW-UN Joint Mission has since last autumn focused on the verification and dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons programme. The international community has succeeded in maintaining the pressure on Syria so that mission could proceed in practice. Monday’s news was therefore gratifying.There is still work to be done. The next step is to begin the full-scale destruction of the chemicals declared by Syria to the OPCW. The most hazardous chemicals are being transported to the American vessel, the Cape Ray, for destruction on the Mediterranean Sea.  In Finland, in turn, the destruction of industrial grade chemicals began around Midsummer, as the Norwegian vessel, the Taiko, brought the first chemicals to be delivered to Ekokem for destruction. The destruction will take place at the Ekokem waste treatment plant in Riihimäki, under the OPCW’s supervision.Finland has supported the OPCW-UN Joint Mission in many ways since the end of last year and has received widespread recognition for this. Finland has participated in the Danish and Norwegian maritime transport operation, which has transferred the chemicals from the port of Latakia, Syria so that they can be processed further. Finland has sent soldiers specialized in the handling of chemical materials (chemical, biological radiological and nuclear, CBRN) to assist with the maritime transport operation. The Finnish CBRN-experts have been on board to secure the safety of the maritime transport of the chemicals and to ensure the care of the personnel on board, if such a need were to arise. The protection task in the Mediterranean Sea is now coming to an end, and the most hazardous chemicals will soon be transferred to the US vessel, the Cape Ray. This is also a good indication of Nordic cooperation as part of a wider international effort, and has underscored Finland’s special expertise of CBRN issues.  A Finnish vessel protection detachment unit, for its part, participates in protecting the Cape Ray while the chemical weapons are being destroyed. This takes place in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea as part of a multinational task. The destruction will be done during the summer. The tasks of the Finnish vessel protection detachment unit, operating on board a German vessel, include identification and intelligence tasks as well as possible ship inspections.The work in Syria is not completed with the ending of the chemical transports and the beginning of the chemical destruction. The OPCW continues to investigate the chlorine attacks that have occurred in Syria. In addition, discussions concerning the coverage of Syria’s declaration and the destruction of production facilities are unfinished. Weapons of mass destruction are a wider threat in the Middle East.Bringing the transportation of chemical weapons out of Syria to an end is unfortunately the only good news obtained recently from Syria and its neighbouring countries. The warfare in Syria has already spread to Iraq, the number of refugees and the need for humanitarian assistance have increased continually, nor is there an end in sight to the fighting. UN-led peace efforts must continue to be supported, and all parties directly or indirectly involved in the conflict must be pressured to hold negotiations, as there is no solution based on war.

26.6. 2014