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Exports of Dual-use Chemicals to Syria: An Assessment of European Union Export Controls

Non-proliferation Paper No. 35

Non-proliferation Paper No. 35

Publisher: SIPRI
SIPRI, Stockholm:
January, 2014

In 2013 it was confirmed that European companies have exported a number of different chemicals to Syria with the full knowledge and consent of their responsible national authorities. Public attention was drawn to this information after the Syrian Government was accused of illegally using chemical weapons in attacks that killed large numbers of civilians.

There are inherent difficulties in controlling the international transfer of chemicals. The European Union (EU) has a system for controlling exports of so-called dualuse chemicals (chemicals that have civilian uses but that could also contribute to weapon programmes). The system is based on EU law that is binding on all member states. Studying this system can help to explain how chemical transfers to Syria could take place. After dual-use goods have left the EU it is difficult, if not impossible, to supervise their use, and the law requires prior authorization from responsible national authorities before controlled items are exported from the EU. Authorization is only to be given in cases where the national authorities believe the proliferation risk associated with a given commercial transaction lies within acceptable parameters.


Dr Ian Anthony was the Director of SIPRI’s European Security Programme.