“Left unclear in the statement released Wednesday was whether a separate dispute regarding Syria’s 12 chemical production facilities — seven aircraft hangars and five tunnels — had been resolved.” New York Times, 3/19/14
The much troubled Syrian chemical weapons (CW) destruction saga drags on, but took a step forward this week with the welcome announcement that 45% of the stockpile has now left Syria. This good news, however, must be measured against a backdrop of a potential new Cold War between Russia and the West, regular attacks on CW convoys and rocket attacks on Latakia around CW loading times. Given the Syrian regime’s reluctance to destroy the 12 production and storage sites it was mandated to [destroy] by March 15, 2014, let’s return to my previous assertion that the 80% solution achieved so far is good enough. In fact, the 80% solution looks like a more pragmatic and more viable end state with each passing day. The world is currently focused on the Russian annexation of Crimea and missing airliners, with scant interest in Syria at the moment, while desperate civilians are dying by the thousands. It’s important to remember that the CW only moved, in the main, by the pressure of Russia’s weighty hands on Syrian shoulders. Now with the withdrawal of support for CW removal from Syria (and the Russian threats to derail the Iran nuclear proliferation treaty), Putin appears to be holding all the aces.
However, given that in my opinion there is now an acceptable position–that is, all CW (Mustard agent) removed, all equipment to mix and manufacture CW destroyed–it is clearly not the time to take a page out of the Putin Poker Handbook and play hardball. Does it really matter that Assad still has some old CW storage bunkers? Does it really matter he has some toxic chemicals? No. Now is the time to get the dangerous Mustard agent onto the MV Cape Ray and destroy it ASAP and declare game over. Then there is no more Assad prevaricating over every letter of the Chemical Weapons Convention and holding the UN and international community at arm’s length, perpetuating general inertia. Instead, it’s time for the international community to ‘draw stumps’ and call Assad’s bluff. With a majority of truly dangerous CW removed from Syria, it’s time to focus on getting aid in, not toxic chemicals out. And it’s time to redouble efforts to track down those CW which ‘might’ have proliferated around the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, undercover of this mêlée. These are the weapons that ‘potentially’ pose a much greater threat to global security than some toxic chemicals stuck to the north of Damascus.