WASHINGTON – If implemented, Russia’s plan to solve the global crisis in Syria
by placing the regime’s chemical arms under international control would,
theoretically, produce historic results.
The world would suddenly be rid
of the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in its most dangerous region,
currently controlled by a man who is, apparently, willing to use them against
Vladimir Putin could claim that Russia has reinforced world
order, and US President Barack Obama would declare a victory for
nonproliferation – a pillar of his foreign policy since 2008, and the
justification for any military action in Syria he may have otherwise
On Tuesday, the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad appeared
ready to make some of those concessions. The United Nations and Russia would
oversee and destroy Syria’s chemical arms, its foreign minister said, and would
identify its stockpiles for their destruction. Syria will disown them and will
sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, he said. His comments mark a shift in over
three decades of policy.
Crisis in Syria - full JPost.com coverage
For the proposal’s implementation, Syria may
have to agree to a cease-fire that would allow for a small army of inspectors
and international operators to invade the dozens of chemical storage facilities
scattered throughout the country.
Emphasizing the drama of the shift is
the fact that, just on Sunday, Assad told American interviewer Charlie Rose that
he could not confirm Syria possessed these weapons. Assad has never previously
admitted to their existence, despite widespread knowledge throughout
intelligence communities that the Russians slowly supplied Syria’s chemical
weapons program over several decades.
Even if he did possess them, he
wouldn’t dare use them, Assad says. And even if he did, “killing is killing,”
regardless of the means, he told Rose.
The basis of the Chemical Weapons
Convention is the notion that these gasses are weapons of mass destruction too
cruel and indiscriminate for even the ugliest battlefields.
The fact that
Assad may have changed his decades-long position on the value of these arms,
somewhere over the past three days – with no changes to the strategic
environment, and with the threat of force only waning from a skeptical Congress
– would mark an exceptional moment in modern foreign affairs.
government that originally helped build Syria’s massive chemical program has now
proposed a plan for its destruction. If a cease-fire is agreed upon – the plan
would be contingent on the safety and accessibility of the monitoring team –
then Russia would have made the world safer and paused one of its worst
Russia’s plan has a precedent.
Before the Gulf War and
the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Russia proposed that international monitors
provide strict oversight of the activities of Saddam Hussein. Previous US
administrations disregarded those proposals.
Executing this plan will
make the START Treaty look like tryouts.
With over 1,000 tons of arms
scattered nationwide, thousands of monitors and millions of dollars will be
They will be operating in the middle of a devastating civil
If Assad has truly agreed to forfeit his deterrence against Israel,
pause his war against rebelling civilians, acknowledge and disown his chemical
weapons arsenal and open up his country to the world, then the United States has
created a historic opportunity with the specter of military force.
Washington is skeptical.
When Secretary of State John Kerry spoke in
London on Monday and suggested Syria do just that over the next week, he felt
the need to throw up his hands.
“He isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be
done,” Kerry said, “obviously.”