Syria CW – Success, but so what? | Charles Duelfer

Syria CW – Success, but so what?

Syria has missed its latest deadline to finish removing Chemical agent and precursors from its territory.  However, they almost made it–about 92% done.  Bashar al-Assad clearly has moved to fulfill his obligation to get rid of his CW capability.  There is no reason to doubt that the last amount won’t be shipped.  In fact, given government successes in reclaiming territory from rebel groups, the shipment of chemicals to the port of Latakia where it is loaded onto ships has become easier.

Clouding this “positive” step by Assad, is the reported use of chlorine as a weapon.  Chlorine is a common but toxic chemical which was used in WWI.  It is a lousy weapon since it is relatively heavy and thus doesn’t disperse well in the atmosphere.  It also smells so you know where it is and can steer clear of it.  Nevertheless, it seems Assad’s forces dumped some amount for some unclear purpose.  Using Chlorine as a weapon is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Treaty that Assad just signed.  Stupid on his part it would seem since he is giving up his “effective” chemical weapons and can accomplish whatever terror or military purposes he may have with non-chemical weapons.  Assad would seem to be squandering whatever boost to his international reputation his divestiture of his real CW capabilities.  Go figure.

The international arms control/disarmament community should still chalk Syria up as a win.  They have pretty much gotten rid of everything.  Remaining inspections will check detailed compliance and there will be a debate over the destruction or “inactivation” of factories used to produce weapons.  And of course Syria has to ship out the last barrels of chemicals.  But it looks on course to complete the job and the OPCW/US destruction process on board the MV Cape Ray will proceed–probably meeting the next deadline of June.

In the meantime, Syria is still in flames.  The Russian role is even more complicated given the developments in Ukraine. And Iran is watching and calculating what to do regarding its negotiating deadline of July when either the negotiations have succeeded and sanctions are further reduced, or not.   This will be a really big deal though to regard American press, attention seems to be directed inward not outward.

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