The Conversation

Syria Agrees to Sign Chemical Weapons Convention, Destruction Could Take a Decade

The Kremlin's news outlet, RT, announced today that Syria would sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and open sites to inspection.

The Syrian Foreign Minister reportedly said on television "We fully support Russia’s initiative concerning chemical weapons in Syria, and we are ready to cooperate. As a part of the plan, we intend to join the Chemical Weapons Convention."

Despite their having bumbled into this with the help of Russia, it is probably the best outcome with regard to President Obama's proposed strike. Some are already declaring a win for the White House. The logic is straight-forward, i.e. Obama said a strike wasn't about regime change only about maintaining international norms. Getting Syria to sign the CWC enforces those norms.

If saying good riddance to a bad plan is a win, then this is a win. On the other hand, Foreign Policy points out that accomplishing the destruction of Assad's chemical stockpiles will be a long term project, especially in the midst of a civil war. Yochi Dreazen, the author of the piece, presents the case of Libya as a kind of reality check:

Tripoli declared its possession of the weapons in January 2004 and voluntarily promised to get rid of them. In November 2011, the Libyan government abruptly declared that it had found a "previously undeclared chemical weapons stockpile" that included several hundred munitions loaded with mustard gas. The destruction of those weapons was halted because of a technical malfunction at the disposal facility and is still not complete. Nine years after vowing to get rid of its weapons, Libya has destroyed barely half of its total mustard gas stockpile and just 40% of its stores of chemical weapons precursor elements.

Rofer noted that Syria has far more chemical weapons than Libya, so getting rid of them could take even longer. "I wouldn't be surprised to see this last as long as ten years," she said.

Obama created a red line. Syria crossed it repeatedly. Now we're going to celebrate him gradually giving up the weapons he still claims he did not use.

Obama did get a win on international norms, but in the past week his administration has said repeatedly that it also needed to send a message to other rogue regimes who were watching. I suspect all such talk will now disappear down the memory hole, but it's not hard to imagine how Iran or North Korea will view this "win." They'll take it as a sign the U.S. can be ignored for a time and then bought off with paper-thin promises.


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