Syria has will miss both target dates to remove its chemicals. The most toxic amounts were due out at the end of the 2013 and the less dangerous components due out February 5th. Security is not an excuse for the minimal progress so far. And this is a strong reversal from the full compliance with earlier deadlines to eliminate munitions, production equipment and other CW facilities.
It appears that decisions in Damascus about CW are being taken in context of other issues—particularly the discussions in Geneva with Lahkdar Brahimi. While Bashir al-Assad ponders his next moves, Norwegian, Danish, Russian and American ships will continue to steam around the Mediterranean waiting for Bashir to move forward. Bashir al-Assad is expending whatever international credibility he accrued by agreeing to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention and moving smartly this past fall to comply.
The Russians, who have been arguing Bashir’s case, will be having fits. But unless the US and others raise the specter of doing something in response, then even Russian influence over Damascus regarding CW will be minimal.
Of course, the real problem now is not Syrian CW. The real problem is the complete chaos with not path ahead for the Syrian conflict and its ripples beyond. For the most part, the risk posed by Syrian CW is greatly diminished by the actions already taken. However, as has always been the case, there are plenty of ways to kill civilians without chemical munitions.
The US may raise Syrian CW compliance in the UN Security Council shortly. If they do, the question of “enforcement” action will be debated either openly or not. Russians will oppose, but the Administration will find itself once again in a position where domestic pressures to “do something” will grow as they did in September when the President made his speech to the nation asking Congress for its agreement to conduct a limited military strike on Syria.
The President is planning travel to Saudi Arabia next month. What does he want to be able to say? Does he want to say we are thinking or doing something, or that we did something? Bear in mind that the fact of the trip will also be a motivating factor for other parties—Israel, Al-Qaeda, Russia, Iran, Bashir al-Assad, and the US Congress.
I think the crews on the ships in the waiting to lift and destroy the Syrian chemicals may have a long deployment.