Some claim that the plan to destroy Syria's CW has already failed. But in fact Syria delivered the first installment of its promised accounting of its CW stockpile to the UN's designated CW experts on Friday, only seven days after signing the Chemical Weapons Convention, and delivered what is claimed to be the rest on Saturday.
'Initial disclosure' received by watchdog in The Hague is now being studied by weapons experts…the submission was incomplete and Damascus is expected to provide further details in the coming days.Which it did. So then what? Well, in one version of reality, this means that the CW will be removed from Syria some time next year and destroyed within some reasonable time thereafter. And in the other, of course this proves that the whole thing is a sham and a failure, and Obama and Kerry are either stumblebums or closet Neo-Cons, because I read it in my breakfast cereal or something, as we spiral down the orange rabbit hole.
Or not. It's so crazy it just might work. Let's start with facts and reasoned extrapolations of what we know, and then proceed to mere supposition and CT-mongering.
Facts, So Far
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW.org), which enforces the Chemical Weapons Convention through inspections and supervised destruction of CW, conducted the investigation of the Sarin gas attacks in Syria last month, and is now dealing with Syria's recent membership in the CWC. It received the initial declaration of Syria's CW stocks on Friday, and a supplementary declaration on Saturday. Although there are claims that the declaration is now complete, this has not been verified. Naturally, if it is not complete, the matter goes straight to the Security Council for more kabuki from Russia.
The OPCW experts are examining the declarations, and will pass them on with some analysis to member states before any of the material is publicly released. Complete details of locations of CW obviously cannot be given out during a civil war involving Al Qaeda factions, but we should hear about types of site and quantities of various kinds of CW and precursor chemicals, and about various equipment. The joint US-Russian plan for Syrian CW (link to PDF below) says:
The United States and the Russian Federation expect Syria to submit, within a week, a comprehensive listing, including names, types, and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and location and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities.Syria Produces Chemical Weapons Inventory
The OPCW, which has about 125 inspectors, was established in 1997 when the Chemical Weapons Convention took effect, prohibiting the production or use of chemical arms. The OPCW's members are the Chemical Weapons Convention's 189 signatories. Syria filed a request to become the 190th member on Sept. 14, in the wake of the U.S.-Russia agreement.OPCW finds already that a new process will be needed for dealing with Syrian CW. No surprise there. They are looking for ways to fast-track the process, considering the gravity of the situation, but they also have to lay out plans for inspecting and removing CW from a war zone for destruction elsewhere, and dealing with the rest of the CW infrastructure. We should take note that a similar problem exists in Somalia, which signed the CWC in May. Planning continues for their operation, which is considered a bit less urgent than Syria because the Somalis have not been threatening to use their CW. Six more countries remain to be brought into the CWC: Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan. Last year OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü said:
Since its creation, OPCW has overseen the destruction of 57,740 metric tons of chemical weapons, or 81% of the world's declared stockpile, much of it in Russia and the U.S.
We have been approaching those countries for several years. It is likely that three countries—Angola, South Sudan, and Myanmar—may join the convention some time during 2013, hopefully. We have been sending some delegations to Myanmar; the second one will go in early February. We have proposed similar assistance to South Sudan, which is a new independent state, and to Angola. We see that there shouldn’t be any problem for them to join the convention. So we understand that it has not been a matter of priority so far, but they have shown some interest, and we encourage them to do it as early as possible.Egypt is currently a bit distracted. Israel and North Korea are the toughest nuts on the planet, for essentially the same reason: paranoia about whether they can continue to exist.
Getting back to Syria, the OPCW has been attempting to discuss the problem with them for some time, and has obviously assessed the Syrian CW systems, and thought about disposal issues. Before the attacks of last month, this was the position:
The OPCW has made representations to Syria over the years to encourage her to join the Treaty, which have never produced an official response.Now, of course, everything has changed. Under the US-Russian plan recently agreed to (link to PDF below), inspectors are intended to be on the ground by November. Mixing and filling equipment for making Sarin and loading it into shells is to be destroyed in place as soon as possible. The Sarin precursors and other CW are to be removed from Syria and destroyed by mid-2014. Some materials might be destroyed in place.
The usual method for disposing of CW is to incinerate it under controlled conditions. The US did that at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal starting in the 1970s, and is continuing there and elsewhere to this day. There have been more than 100 incidents of exposure of US personnel to Sarin during this process, mostly from wearing inadequate protective gear. The safety of emissions from such incineration is greatly disputed, and alternative methods for breaking down these compounds have been proposed.
The Problem of Chemical Weapons Disposal (Word document file)
You may thank that treehugging peacenik cut-and-run Socialist appeaser (and crook) Richard Nixon for initiating the program of incineration in 1969, with operations starting in 1974.
We could discuss some of these points about earlier CW and earlier disposal projects, perhaps in another diary, if there is interest.
The organisation provided no details on the contents of the inventory and said a briefing with more information will be held after a meeting by the OPCW’s executive committee.In general, preliminary schedules of meetings and deliberations are requiring revision from the start. It is understandable that everybody wants to do everything as soon as possible, but not, as it turns out, any sooner.
The committee was originally scheduled to meet on Sunday to issue a recommendation for further steps that will provide the basis of a UN Security Council resolution governing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks, but that meeting has been postponed until next week, a spokesman said.
“It is taking them longer than they expected to prepare the meeting and draft the text,” Michael Luhan, the OPCW spokesman, said.
Agence France-Presse at the Hague
Syria hands over chemical weapons inventory on time, says watchdog
According to the framework agreed by Washington and Moscow, OPCW weapons inspectors are to complete inspections of Syrian weapons sites and destruction of production and mixing/filling equipment by November.The sticking point is whether the UN resolution will be backed up by a threat of force, which the US, France, and the UK all support, and Russia opposes. The British Parliament voted against immediate military action without UN authorization, but UN action in response to signing the Convention and then violating it is quite a different matter. China has not weighed in on that question directly. It has opposed military intervention in Syria in the past, but says now that it is firmly behind the process for destroying Syria's CW.
But the international consensus on the plan has not carried over into negotiations on the wording of a UN Security Council resolution to back it up.
The Council’s five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- have been wrangling over the text of the resolution since Monday in a bid to find common ground.
A few facts above are taken from Yahoo:
Syria sends OPCW chemical weapons inventory
Although not a United Nations (UN) organisation, the OPCW has a working relationship with the UN. For instance, if requested to do so by the UN Secretary-General, the OPCW has a mandate in accordance with paragraph 27 of Part XI of the Verification Annex of the Convention for closely cooperating with the UN, by placing its resources at the disposal of the Secretary General to conduct an investigation of alleged use of chemical weapons in a State not Party to the CWC.Joint National Paper by the Russian Federation and the United States of America: Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons [PDF - 31 KB]
The United States and the Russian Federation concur that this UN Security Council resolution should provide for review on a regular basis the implementation in Syria of the decision of the Executive Council of the OPCW, and in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.Interview with UN Deputy Mission Leader/OPCW Team Leader Scott Cairns
The Director-General envisages that this significant step will be fully supported by States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the wider international community. The CWC represents the sole multilateral mechanism to rid the world of chemical weapons and the OPCW, with over 16 years of experience, possesses the necessary skills and capacities to undertake such missions. OPCW experts are already at work preparing a roadmap that anticipates the various undertakings and missions in Syria. Nine OPCW experts recently participated in the UN investigation of alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.OPCW to Review Request from Syria
I think that it is all going to happen, with some occasional drama now and then. It will, in my view, take longer than many of the ignorant I want what I want when I want it brigade expect and be done in less time than many can believe now, among those who know enough to be dangerous but not enough to be helpful (like Kerry, when he floated the idea, thinking that it was impossible and therefore a joke). It is not that I am the expert that all should bow down to, but that I am quoting experts, including those at OPCW, whose explanations make sense to me, as I would on Evolution or Global Warming or Grid Parity. On some points I have extrapolated the explanations a bit.
How to destroy chemical weapons effectively and safely, which can be done, would make a good Diary. This is not that Diary. But I will add a note on the other vexed question, how to get the CW out of Syria. It is supposedly dispersed at 50 or more sites. We might find out something about where those are in due course. It is presently secured by the Syrian military. That means that it could be secured by an international force where it is, assuming actual cooperation from Syria.
So the next step would be to organize fairly heavily-armed neutral military convoys with neutral air cover to take the CW to the nearest friendly (to us) country, presumably Turkey, which means inside NATO. (Of the other countries that border on Syria: Israel, not on your nelly; Jordan, I really don't think so; Iraq, forget it; Lebanon, are you kidding? We want it as far from Hezbullah as possible.) Removal by sea, while possible in principle, presents significant logistical and security problems, especially at dockside and while loading. OPCW Deputy Mission Leader to Syria Scott Cairns has observed that UN convoys in Syria have regularly come under fire. (video below)
Russia has already stuck an oar in here, demanding that some of the CW brought out of Syria be given to it for destruction. Fine, as far as I can see. We can ship it to them from the other side of Turkey, and send inspectors to oversee them, too. Russia also wants to send in its own troops to help.
What could go wrong with that?
It is possible that the ambitious schedule currently being discussed will have to be extended due to unforeseen circumstances. Or maybe we will have sufficient will to spend the money and get through the politics to speed up the process.
Then you are going to hear some on the right claim that some of the CW got away, and it's all Obama's fault. As though there isn't any liberated CW floating around Syria now. Expect to hear also:
- That the destruction of Syria's CW has already failed, because Obama. Or Syria, or Russia, or Iran, or Al Qaeda, or John McCain and Lindsey Graham (and therefore we have to bomb Iran). Among others.
- Obama is as bad as the Neo-Cons and Al Qaeda, either for refusing to topple Assad, or for trying to. It doesn't matter, because in either case, killing babies.
- It's all kabuki. Russia proposed this just so it could get in the way and keep it from happening, while preventing military strikes on Syria.
- None of it matters, because Syria has dispersed its CW, or given it to Hezbullah.
- Or as Fox News claims over and over and over…Obama is at fault for threatening war, and looking like a tyrannical warmonger shredding the Constitution, and even more at fault for backing down and looking like a wimp and shredding US credibility and global hegemony and Exceptionalism. And the US economy with Obamacare. And Kenyan Mau Mau Antchrist terrorism, in league with Al Qaeda. Also Benghazi and the IRS, and abortion and teh Gay.
Whatever. In my opinion, that's all CT and Obama suxors, whether it comes from Fox, or RT.com, or a few misguided Kossacks, or any of the other usual suspects. I'm waiting to hear the tinfoil hat brigade come out and—No, forget I even started to say it. Let's not give them ideas.
Go away, lest I taunt you again.French frog-eating knight on battlements (John Cleese), Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Oh, wait. I forgot about the Russian crazies in charge.
Russia has accused the United States of trying to blackmail it during negotiations over what to do about Syria's chemical weapons.Never mind that they already agreed to the threat of military action in the published plan. (link to PDF above). Because of course the US suxors. Which, to be fair, it frequently has. But how do the Russians, currently the main force in the world propping up Assad, get to complain about warmongering?
Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the only reason the West was agreeing to discussions it has proposed was so it could draw up a UN resolution that would open the way to military action.
Kabuki, kabuki, kabuki,
The deal that's hard to get.
Kabuki, kabuki, kabuki,
But you can win it yet.