OPINION

Albania and the chemical weapons in Syria

The Albanian government recently confirmed rumors which had started circulating last month that Albania is among the candidate nations to host the destruction of chemical weapons found in Syria. Demonstrations by humanitarian and ecological organizations in the Southeastern European state reasonably reflect the reaction of the Albanian people to the potential transformation of their country into a dump for chemical weapons. And they have every right to do so.

Washington asked Tirana to accept the request while other Western countries such as the US, Britain, France, Norway and so on, which have experience in the destruction of chemical weapons, have rejected the possibility that Syrian chemical weapons could be destroyed on their territories. It is true that the Albanians do have relevant experience, since six years ago they destroyed their own chemical arsenal dating back to the communist era. However, just because Albania has experience with chemical weapons – along with the fact that it is the weakest among all candidate countries – doesn’t mean that it has to follow the fate of other Balkan countries.

The news must have alarmed the government in Athens regarding the potential environmental dangers for the region, especially if the planned operation is to take place in the south, where Northern Epirus and the country’s border with Greece are located. The risk of environmental contamination is very likely, regardless of any preventive measures taken by Tirana and the West. Consequently Athens must make its position clear on the matter immediately and take diplomatic action to prevent such a development from being implemented. This is possible by attempting to create a common front involving Albania’s neighboring countries and working with Tirana to persuade them not to accept Syria’s chemical weapons in Albania, regardless of any Western financial incentives to Albania. If so, what are the alternatives?

Syria has huge uninhabited deserts, especially in the southeast of the country, and given that it is about Syrian weapons, Syrian territory should be the first choice of their burial and destruction. However, the fact that Syria cannot sustain the necessary security and stability for the destruction of its chemical arsenal has prompted the US, Russia and the rest of the West to consider other options. Given that the proposal came from Russia out of necessity due to political pressure from the US for a possible military engagement, these two countries (the USA and Russia) should find areas in their own territory (central US states, Siberia etc) to destroy Syrian chemical weapons, dividing equally the percentage of the chemical weapons under destruction. At least that is what common sense and respect for political ethics at a transnational level of cooperation and human rights dictate. As for the implementation of these ethics in the case of Albania, let’s wait and see…

* Dr Evangelos Venetis is a research fellow and coordinator of the Middle East Research Project at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).