Syria: thinking through the disarmament process

The duopoly that is passing for global governance right now has its positive side.  The two largest militaries in the world, the US and Russia, are seriously coordinating their actions towards a common goal, however specific that might be: the CW disarmament of a UN Member State.

In the Framework Agreement, the two powers express their ‘joint determination’ to ensure the expeditious destruction of the weapons.  To that effect, they are submitting a draft decision to the OPCW Executive Council, based on 10 principles.  The two powers have a ‘shared assessment’ of the amount and type of chemical weapons involved.  The process will commence in November and finish by mid-2014.  OPCW and UN personnel will be despatched as rapidly as possible, including experts from all of the P-5 (US, Russia, UK, France, China).

The OPCW decision will be accompanied by a UN Security Council resolution for regular review of the disarmament process.  Non-compliance ‘should result’ in chapter VII measures being adopted by the Council.

The destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons is a major step forward.  Of course nothing is perfect on planet Earth; the process will be painstaking.  The Russian President himself has expressed concern it may not work.

And there are a number of political wrinkles as a result of this twist in fate.  First, there is the emerging disconnect between the disarmament process and individual leadership accountability for use of the weapons on 21 August.  The UN inspectors’ report, now in the hands of the Secretary-General, confirms the event but stops short of assigning culpability – that was beyond its terms of reference.

Western states have ‘high confidence’ (the highest level short of confirmation) that the Syrian government forces deployed the weapons.  While that is insufficient for criminal conviction, it may be sufficient for an investigation.  But the ICC Prosecutor can only investigate Syrian leaders if the Security Council refers the situation, because Syria remains a non-party to the Court….

So the Security Council is likely to concentrate just on disarmament first.  And that might, with some political irony, result in some gratuitous legitimacy for the Syrian President. Assad will exert every effort to cooperate with the UN/OPCW during the disarmament process – exhibiting territorial control, statesmanlike hospitality, irresistible charm.  The opposition rebels will not enjoy that.  Will they spoil the disarmament process?     Unlikely – they would incurCC the combined wrath of Russia and the US – the ironies never cease.

And what does this mean for the broader political process of a settlement?  Will the carnage continue with conventional weaponry while the disarmament of an unconventional type gets under way? Most probably: the opposition will be unimpressed with the impact of this intrusion into their more serious objective – the ouster of the Government.

Yet it has been demonstrated, yet again, that if the two major adversarial powers line up in common cause and China bestows a distant blessing, things get done at the global level.  It may be too much to expect the cause can stretch to a durable political settlement, but the alternative for them is to join the rest of the world in spectator position while the conflict draws to an exhausted, and probably more imperfect, conclusion.

And New Zealand?  The Foreign Minister has pronounced: “We are pleased to see the UN Security Council will now have a role to play in addressing this crisis – something that New Zealand has consistently called for.”

That, of course, is taking ‘consistency’ to shameless new heights of constructive ambiguity.  On 27 August, his Prime Minister had stated: “US intervention, without sanction from the UN Security Council, may be unavoidable.  Inevitably, that may be where it leads.”

How quickly, how effortlessly, they forget.

3 Comments Posted

  1. @Sam Buchanan,

    You think a nominally democratic regime would be better for the “Syrian” people? What do you think a Syrian government dominated by radical Sunni Muslims will do to religious minorities like the Alawites and Christians?

    Do you presume to say so-called democratic regimes such as Turkey and Israel treat residents of their country any better than does the Assad?

    As to government’s adoption of chemical and nuclear weapons, they were originally intended as a deterrent against conventional warfare, which World War I and II demonstrated was immeasurably more devastating than the use of so-called weapons of mass destruction.

    Why do you think so many government’s around the world wish to gain access to them? They think that it would deter invasion by the major powers, but they’ve only served as red rags for bulls to attract their not-so benign attentions.

    This conflict will not end well. It’ll be a bloodbath, which will make the former Yugoslavia a veritable drop in a thimble in comparison.

  2. Kennedy says “That, of course, is taking ‘consistency’ to shameless new heights of constructive ambiguity.”

    Then Kennedy quotes Key saying the US may have to act without the blessing of the UN, but OMITS the part of the SAME QUOTE where Key says the UNSC has a big part to play.

    And you’d have to be dreaming to think the disarmament process would have started if it had been all left up to the security council and the US hadn’t threatened to act without their sanction.

  3. “…the Security Council is likely to concentrate just on disarmament first. And that might, with some political irony, result in some gratuitous legitimacy for the Syrian President.”

    So a dictator has managed to turn a massacre into a stamp of legitimacy by eventaually giving up weapons no state or any other body should ever have been allowed to possess in the first place, thanks to the combined efforts of the UN and one and a half superpowers.

    Yeah, “things get done at the global level” – real League of Nations style things, ghastly surreal jokes, which just highlight the incredible ineffectuality of the so-called global legal system.

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