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The cost of dismantling chemical weapons in Syria

A Syrian opposition fighter tries a gas maskin the northern city of Aleppo on July 25, 2012.

The use of military force in Syria is, at least for now, off the table. The president said as much in his speech last night. "Wait and see" are now the watchwords about Bashar al-Assad and his chemical weapons, and whether he'll give them up.

But gathering them, and eventually destroying them, might be easier said than done.

"The logistics of this are extraordinarily challenging," says Philipp Bleek, an assistant professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, who has worked on non-proliferation in the Pentagon. "I think this is something that President Obama should pursue to see where it goes, but it's a little bit hard from my position to see how the logistics of this even play out."

The process would take several steps, including a lot of digging around Syria to find out exactly how much of these substances exist there, and precisely where they are. Once chemical weapons are found, the process of destroying them can be quite costly.

"I think it doesn't have to be as expensive as the effort to destroy U.S. and Russian stocks -- the U.S. was estimated to spend a little more than $30 billion," he says. "It doesn't have to be that expensive, but it's unlikely to be cheap." He estimates destroying Syria's chemical arsenal would cost somewhere in the hundreds of millions of dollars -- a price tag that's due in large part to the need to build special facilities to dispose of the materials safely.

Will it all pay off in the end?

"We are not going to know that we've gotten them all," Bleek admits, citing the example of Libya a few years ago. "[But] if you can destroy 95 or 99 percent of the Syrian stockpile, that's worth a lot."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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