Chemical Weapons Agreement Presents Formidable Challenges

BMI View: Although the momentum for US airstrikes on Syria has waned for now, challenges relating to the destruction of the latter country's chemical weapons arsenal are formidable. The US will keep the threat of military action, and we cannot preclude unilateral strikes in the future.

The Syrian crisis has recently taken a turn away from US military action, following Damascus' acceptance on September 10 of a Russian proposal that Syria gives up its chemical weapons. The US and Russia agreed on September 14 on a framework agreement for the removal and destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal before the end of the first half of 2014. The agreement is based on six key points:

  • Syria must submit within one week a comprehensive listing of its stockpiles.

  • Chemical weapons must be rapidly placed under international control.

  • Procedures under the Chemical Weapons Convention will allow for "expeditious destruction".

  • Syria must give inspectors immediate access to all sites.

  • All chemical weapons must be destroyed, which may include the possibility of removing them from Syrian territory.

  • Compliance should be enforced under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Negotiations are currently underway to pass a UN Security Council Resolution on the basis of such agreement. That said, we believe that significant challenges could hamper the plan. For one, the wording of the resolution is set to be contentious. The United Nations released on September 16 a report confirming that a deadly chemical arms attack caused a mass killing in Syria last month. Several forensic details in the report point to a direct responsibility of the Syrian government. The size, shape and manufacture of the munitions - including an M14 artillery rocket bearing Cyrillic markings - strengthen the argument of those who claim that the Syrian government bears the blame, given that such weapons had not been previously reported to be in possession of the opposition. In addition, angular measurements from where rockets had struck pointed to their origin at a Syrian military complex.

Chemical Weapons Agreement Presents Formidable Challenges

BMI View: Although the momentum for US airstrikes on Syria has waned for now, challenges relating to the destruction of the latter country's chemical weapons arsenal are formidable. The US will keep the threat of military action, and we cannot preclude unilateral strikes in the future.

The Syrian crisis has recently taken a turn away from US military action, following Damascus' acceptance on September 10 of a Russian proposal that Syria gives up its chemical weapons. The US and Russia agreed on September 14 on a framework agreement for the removal and destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal before the end of the first half of 2014. The agreement is based on six key points:

  • Syria must submit within one week a comprehensive listing of its stockpiles.

  • Chemical weapons must be rapidly placed under international control.

  • Procedures under the Chemical Weapons Convention will allow for "expeditious destruction".

  • Syria must give inspectors immediate access to all sites.

  • All chemical weapons must be destroyed, which may include the possibility of removing them from Syrian territory.

  • Compliance should be enforced under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Negotiations are currently underway to pass a UN Security Council Resolution on the basis of such agreement. That said, we believe that significant challenges could hamper the plan. For one, the wording of the resolution is set to be contentious. The United Nations released on September 16 a report confirming that a deadly chemical arms attack caused a mass killing in Syria last month. Several forensic details in the report point to a direct responsibility of the Syrian government. The size, shape and manufacture of the munitions - including an M14 artillery rocket bearing Cyrillic markings - strengthen the argument of those who claim that the Syrian government bears the blame, given that such weapons had not been previously reported to be in possession of the opposition. In addition, angular measurements from where rockets had struck pointed to their origin at a Syrian military complex.

These developments have reinforced efforts by the US and France to mention the possibility of the use of military force in case of Syria's non-compliance with the UN resolution. However, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated on September 16 Moscow's view that the attack was likely an act of provocation by the rebels. Moscow insisted that a new UN resolution on Syria would not allow the use of force, and Lavrov added that only if signs emerge that Syria is not fulfilling the agreement or chemical weapons are used again would the Security Council re-examine the situation. We therefore believe that even if a UN Security Council Resolution is passed, its wording will remain vague, with no mention of potential military action.

In addition, even if a resolution is passed, logistical challenges could hamper the implementation of the plan. Plans under the US-Russia agreement likely understate the magnitude of the task of removing and destroying a large chemical weapons arsenal within a warzone in a relatively short time. US officials have recently given conflicting views on how large Syria's chemical weapons arsenal is, while Israeli and US sources have indicated that Damascus has been dispersing its chemical weapons stocks, further complicating the work of UN inspectors. Questions also persist over who would protect the inspectors, a responsibility which is to be primarily of the Syrian government, according to the US-Russia agreement.

Furthermore, even if the Syrian regime comes to believe that giving up its chemical weapons arsenal is a price worth paying to avoid US military strikes, it would likely seek to delay the process in order to continue crushing the rebellion. The former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein played a 'cat-and-mouse' game with UN weapons inspectors for several years, which prompted the Clinton administration to punish it in December 1998 by carrying out several days of airstrikes. The same thing could happen in Syria ( see 'Chemical Weapons 'Deal' Offers Exit, But War Risks Remain', September 9). Damascus could also argue that parts of some facilities have other purposes than the production and storage of chemical weapons, and would therefore be off-limits to inspectors, or draw rebel groups into battles for road arteries needed by inspectors to access sites.

Given the significant challenges relating to the implementation and enforcement of an agreement, the US and its allies will maintain the threat of unilateral military action. We therefore reaffirm our core view that, while the momentum for strikes has waned for now, we cannot preclude unilateral military action in the future.

×

Enter your details to read the full article

By submitting this form you are acknowledging that you have read and understood our Privacy Policy.

×

REQUEST A DEMO

By submitting this form you are acknowledging that you have read and understood our Privacy Policy.

Thank you for your interest

A member of the team will be in touch shortly to arrange a convenient time for your free demonstration and trial. If your enquiry is urgent, please email our Client Services team here.