The Russia’s proposal to initiate putting the Syria’s chemical weapons under international control is a foreign policy success, and President Putin should be given his due. But it’s not points scoring for Russia only; it’s a rare occasion when someone comes up with something that benefits all.
In a series of primetime television interviews, Obama described Russia's offer as a "possible breakthrough" and a "potentially positive development." Indeed, it offered a way out for Obama from what has become an increasingly intractable problem…
The proposal was welcomed by the United Nations and many European and other states. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he would propose the Security Council unite and vote on an immediate chemical weapons transfer, placing weapons and chemical precursors in a safe place within Syria for international destruction.The proposal got strong support at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit held in Bishkek on September 13. Meeting Russian President Putin, the newly elected President of Iran Hassan Rouhani supported the initiative and noted that some time ago his country fell victim to massive use of chemical weapons. He emphasized the important role the SCO could play in the Syrian crisis management and spoke against rendering Western military aid to Syrian illegal armed formations.
In Switzerland the efforts of world community by the Westare underway to direct the process of from balancing on the brink of military action to peaceful management tackling the tall order problem of eliminating chemical weapons under combat conditions with war raging across Syria.
Disarmament – bumpy road ahead
The implementation of Russia’s initiative is a daunting challenge. Summing up the factors that make it so complicated makes it all boil down to a few key unavoidable questions.
No data on Syrian delivery means: is it artillery shells, MLRS or tactical missile systems or air bombs? Who will control the stockpiles? The control presupposes boots on the ground; will it be Arab countries, China, Russia, and the US? Who will call the shots, what command and control system will be put in place? Will it be sectors under the control armed forces of one or a number of states? With the well-known divisions in existence, will the international community find ways to reconcile the differences and work out all these details crucial for the plan to succeed? Can the participants find common language while defining the rules of engagement?
Going further, suppose a consensus is reached (and it will take time), the weapons are under control. What then? The arsenal cannot be put to the bottom of the sea or burnt. It cannot be transferred to the places with adequate industrial infrastructure, the war is raging on. Special facilities are required to liquidate the arsenal. What about access to any other sites that intelligence suggested were linked to the chemical program? And who would guarantee the safety of inspectors? This is the agenda to address before starting to gather munitions in secure locations for their actual destruction. The problems are immense and multiple.
The US and Russia with their much more sophisticated industrial potential have been dealing with the problem for a number of years and still have a long way to go missing the previously scheduled plans. It took three years to eliminate the Iraqi stockpile in the 1990s.The Organizationfor the Prohibition ofChemical Weapons(OPCW) managed to do it in Libya. The arsenal was comparable with the one in Syria at present – around a thousand tons in each case. The weapons were taken to desert with no populated areas hundreds of miles around and eliminated with the help of movable equipment. But there was no war in the country at the time. How can it be done in Syria with combat activities unrelented? Perhaps that’s the right time for Russia and the US to take advantage of their unique Nunn-Lugar program experience. The agreement envisions the cooperation in the field of dealing with third countries WMD stockpiles – the moment is propitious to put it to good use.
This timethe UN resolution must use absolutely clear and unambiguous language. Otherwise it may turn into a remote control mine sparking divisions and automatically triggering sanctions, which are not approved by all, something that has spoiled the things before. The French draft was doomed to failure for this very reason – unacceptable wording, so the main battle for wording and definition is ahead. The West wants a “red line” to exclude cheating and red herring on the part of Damascus. Russia and China want to exclude the chance when any unintentional slip up or unexpected obstacle would be used as a pretext for military action. Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya have taught us all lessons – crisis management is not a bed of roses. It’s a complicated process doomed to be hitting snags on the way. The gist of problems may be distorted and turned inside out to achieve the desired result. That’s what should be taken into account while pitching in to do the job.
The only loser under the circumstances is the Syrian opposition. The temptation to stage a provocation is great. The fact that it’s not the war itself, but rather chemical weapons that comes into the fore, is an irritant for those who fight against Bashar Assad.
Obama – back on stage, away from abyss thanks to Russia
The US needs a quick fix. Hesitancy and blowing hot and cold undermine the credibility of its policy and make clear the administration lacks any definite strategy related to Syria, as well as the Middle East.The strive to dispel the image of someone subject to indecisiveness may coerce the US President into taking impulsive decisions.
With the overwhelming international support it got, the Russia’s proposal is a great chance for all, everyone wins, no one is a loser, except the radical anti-government forces, especially the ones manned by foreign mercenaries, but that’s something international community can easily put up with. It’s also a great chance to make the US and Russia cooperate and improve the bilateral relations. On September 7 President Putin and President Obama discussed the Syrian issue and the prospects for chemical disarmament of Bashar Assad. It lasted just about thirty minutes, and the accords reached saved Obama in a pinch a few days later. Indeed, it was the first time since 1991 when American public opinion and Congress turned against President. There was the prospect of fierce battle with the Congress ahead which could jolly well turn into perhaps the first international failure of an American chief executive since Woodrow Wilson failed to make the US a member of the League of Nations. The president was doomed to become a miserable loser. Now he can remain faithful to the declared “red line” and postpone indefinitely the strike decision. He is saved.
Aside from that, Russia prevented the US expenditure. Every Tomahawk costs over 15 hundred thousand, experts say an air strike has a price tag of $200 million (Chuck Hagel estimates it in dozens of thousands), a no-fly zone requires half a billion as a start sum with one billion to be spent yearly afterwards. Ships and communications should be taken into account too. The promised Saudi Arabia’s contribution is not known, but will hardly take the brunt of it on its shoulders.
Now, was it a wise decision of American president to skip the planned summit in Saint-Petersburg? Definitely not. No doubt Mr. Obama can see it clearly himself. The foreign policy gaffe can be rectified now, if there is a will on his part. I believe there is. Like in the case of the Cuban crisis, the US has moved away from abyss once again.
Prospects – general outlook
The fight for diplomatic success has just started. And there is a long bumpy road ahead. International coordination and mutual trust are needed to transfer the weapons under international control.
The resolution 1973 on Libya was by and large adopted by the time the unrest started in Syria. Russia did not prevent the establishment of no-fly zones to protect civilians. The document was adopted in a hasty manner and was murky enough. The following mass intervention by air forces led to the overthrow of regime and murder of Muammar Gaddafi. NATO went clearly beyond the resolution. Now the lesson is learned. No “may be” in the resolutions anymore, the flexible definitions lead to use of force to take sides and overthrow governments. International community approving use of force to protect one side of conflict constitutes a precedent for Western intervention into internal conflicts.
So far there has been no creative horse trading between the West on the one hand and Russia, China and many other states countering the efforts to start another senseless war on the other. One should hand it to him, President Putin made a better assessment of the situation in the United States than most of US analysts. Mr. Obama pinned his hopes on Americans rallying around the President. But after three wars in the Middle East the American people were war weary eager to resolve problems at home.
In a way, Syria is the quintessence of the previous experience. One way or another it is influenced by what has taken place before. Will it end up as a success or failure? That is the rub. Is the international community capable of drawing lessons or is it doomed to step on the same rake over and over again? That’s what is in question at present. The way the Syria’s crisis is tackled now will define the pattern of international crisis management in the future.
It’s international terrorism that the West and the rest of the world is threatened with, and it serves the purpose to craft a partnership with Russia instead of missing summits because of an isolated case of granting asylum to a whistleblower like Edward Snowden, an event quickly forgotten by media against the background of dynamic Syrian situation.
Like it or not, Russia has nailed it. It’s a face saving proposal leading the situation out of the deadlock. And it got President Obama off a hook of his own making.