Saturday, September 14, 2013

An Unlikely Partnership's Proposal: The Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons

In a stunning development, it seems that the march to war (okay, "limited strike") and repercussion scenarios of regional instability and reprisals against US interests has been halted by an agreement reached today in Geneva during diplomatic meetings between the United States and Russia.

It's called the "Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons."  So what does this mean?  Let's break it down.

To start, Syria has agreed to abide by the Chemical Weapons Convention.  That's a necessity - otherwise, whatever Russia and the US have worked out as a response to the Syrian CW stash would be for naught.  Let's hope Syria remains good to its word.

In the coming days, the US and Russia will submit a proposal to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)'s Executive Council that lays out the specific procedures for disposing and verifying the disposal of Syrian CW. The goal is the removal and destruction of these weapons (and their facilities) in the first half of 2014.

The US and Russia will also be working on a UN Security Council Resolution that 1) reinforces the decision of the OPCW's Executive Council regarding the above proposed procedures; 2) calls for regular evaluations of Syrian compliance with the procedures/elimination decided by the OPCW; and 3) allows for a Chapter VII mandate (see this UN Charter link) should Syria a) not comply; b) transfer CW without authorization; or c) "anyone in Syria" uses chemical weapons.

So if Syria falls short of the proposed US-Russian OPCW draft decision, cases of non-compliance will be referred to the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.  

Although the UN was somewhat castrated by the unilateral actions of the United States in Iraq in 2003, there is still hope for UN relevancy.  This is especially true today.  We have two UN heavy weights - the US and Russia - seemingly united and newly determined to utilize the UN system to respond to the Syrian crisis.

There is no doubt that this US and Russian partnership is not easy or expected.  But it is moving forward.  Under this Framework, the US and Russia have shared their assessments regarding the amount and type of chemical weapons possessed by Syria.  And seem to be on the same page with regard to next steps.

So what's next?  Within a week, Syria is expected to turn over a pretty comprehensive list that details the names, types, and quantities of its CW agents, its munitions, and the location, form of storage, production, and research and development facilities.  Syria is also being asked to provide the OPCW and UN personnel "the immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites in Syria."

This is a pretty comprehensive document.  Once the paperwork is finalized, the ball is in Syria's court.

Will Syria comply?

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