The Conversation

Five Experts Weigh In on Likelihood of Removing Assad's Chemical Weapons

The BBC contacted five foreign policy experts to ask them whether or not the new plan to turn over and destroy Syria's chemical weapons could work. While there is some disagreement, most seem to think this will be difficult, take years to do and be hard to verify. One says this helps keep Assad in power and another says it's a win for him in the broader civil war.

First up was Dina Esfandiary of the International Institute for Strategic Studies who doesn't believe it will work but says it should be given a chance:

Securing Syria's chemical weapons could be done rapidly, if the international community had 75,000 troops at their disposal. But accounting for them and destroying them would take years, not months, to complete.

The next response is from Joe Cirincione, president of global security foundation Ploughshares Fund. He says it can be done and is preferable to war but notes that it will take years:

Elimination of the weapons can be done fairly easily for those that have not yet been mixed. But destroying weaponised agents, particularly sarin, is harder. The weapons will have to be carefully disassembled and the nerve gas incinerated in specially constructed burners built on site. This could take several years.

Sir Andrew Wood of Chatham House is pessimistic about verifying any of this:

Notionally, it could make some marginal difference. But there's no way that anybody can be certain that the whole operation has been carried out successfully. That's just not going to happen.

Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center says it can work so long as we abandon regime change as a goal:

It will require a ceasefire in the areas where the chemical weapons are stored, [and] an agreement between the Syrian government and the international community, whether the UN or the Organisation for Chemical Weapons, and thus an implicit recognition of the Assad regime as the government or authority in Syria.

Finally, Timothee Germain from the Center for International Security and Arms Control Studies says the entire sideshow is a big win for Russia and Assad:

It was a very shrewd operation by Russia because it essentially buys Syria a lot of time to keep on going with the war...

Now Western diplomacy is going to be focused on chemical weapons and it's going to be a lengthy process. In the meantime Assad is essentially free to continue [the war] with whatever means other than chemical weapons, which is probably the biggest victory for him in this respect.

If you read them carefully there is actually not very much disagreement about what it would take to do this. The disagreement is over whether it will actually take place and whether it is a better option than a strike.

But everyone seems to agree that this will take years at best, that doing this in the midst of a civil war will make it extremely difficult, and that we're still depending on the forthrightness and the ongoing existence of the Assad regime.


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