Syrian CW – The Next Stage | Charles Duelfer

Syrian CW – The Next Stage

OPCW head Mehmet Uzumcu announced today that the initial removal of some chemicals from Syria had taken place today.  Chemicals in their specially designed and built containers were loaded onto the Danish ship Ark Futura at the port of Latakia.  OPCW said some materials from 2 (of 12) locations were loaded.  Presumably the ship will go back out into the Mediterranean and sail around in circles until the next batch is ready to pick up. That’s not exciting.

Hold your breath though because insurgents could easily decide to hit a convoy headed to Latakia with an IED attack.

Starting the process to whittle done the stocks of mustard agent and sarin nerve agent chemical “precursors”  is good, but not amazing.

Bashir made his big decision in September and the guts of the Syrian CW facilities have already been demolished.  The Big decision now is whether insurgents will decide to attack.  They can if they want to.  Attacking convoys with IEDs was a specialty in Iraq.  The same guys who trained and taught those skills there are in Syria now.

Focus on the slippage in the UN’s own schedule (the target date was to have all these high priority chemicals out of Syria by 31 December) was overblown.

There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of chaos in Syria (and the UN).

Consider a partial list:

Russian trucks, Chinese monitors, US containers, UN staff supervisors, Syrian army staff, Norwegian and Danish ships, Russian ships, Chinese ships, Russian security at Latakia, US ship-borne destruction vessel (MV Cape Ray), clearance at an unnamed Italian Port for cargo transfer, secure (unannounced) ground transportation, 15-members of the Security Council who think they are important, a Nobel Prize-winning Chairman of OPCW who never expected to be doing any of this, etc.

Sergei Lavrov said to me in the mid-1990’s when he was Russia’s ambassador to the UN that American criticism of the UN was too harsh.  We focused on UN inefficiencies.  He said there was a Russian expression along the lines that, “It’s not that dancing bears dance well, but that they dance at all.”

The Remaining Risks.

Getting the chemical stocks to Latakia is the key risk.  Secrecy about the movements is a good thing—but probably hard to achieve on the ground.  There are 12 sites and the footprint of the convoys of armored trucks will be large.  An IED attack along one of the obvious routes has to be a major risk.  Surveillance of the routes by drones and electronic measures can mitigate but not eliminate such risks.  Intelligence about insurgents will be coming from a mix of sources and channeled to Syrian/Russian officers coordinating the convoy movements.  I doubt it will be very clear cut.  Again, the same guys who taught Iraqis how to make very effective IEDs (and rockets) are active in Syria. There is a lot of wisdom floating around about how to do these attacks. The US never solved that problem.

On the other hand, there is almost zero risk of back-sliding by the Damascus regime on its commitment to get rid of its CW.  Bashir has no use for CW now.  It may have served its purpose in deterring some actions by Israel, but in Syrians current circumstances its greatest utility is in the international legitimacy Bashir gets by ridding himself of it.  And Bashir made his tough decision back in September.

One other risk is the process of moving and destroying the chemicals once they leave Syria.  This is quite small.  The hype over the danger of accepting “chemical agents” into countries for destruction was way overblown.  Most of the chemicals are precursors to the final agent.  It sounds glib, but if they were just dumped in the ocean, it would not be a big deal—environmentally.  Politically, it would be a disaster or course.  Certainly countries have done that before on a vastly bigger scale.

Getting rid of Syrian CW is great.  We are doing it in a complicated way, but that’s international politics.  The real mess in Syria is not chemicals.  It’s a regional conflict that keeps getting worse.

This entry was posted in Iran, Iraq, Syria CW, United Nations, WMD. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free