ISIS Europe just published an occasional paper written by David Chuter, Chair of the Governing Board, on the Syrian crisis and Chemical Weapons. Here is a short summary of the article:
As predicted in ISIS Europe’s last Occasional Paper on Syria (“The Syrian Crisis and Chemical Weapons: Wrong way in, which way out?”, ISIS Europe, September 2013) disposing of Syrian Chemical Weapons is going to take rather longer and be much more difficult than was admitted at the time the destruction agreement was concluded. And, also as predicted, nobody seems to care very much. Why is this?
It was not unexpected when the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced on 28 December that the deadline of 31 December for the removal of the “most critical” chemicals from Syrian soil was “unlikely to be met”. And indeed it has not been met.
Yet the international reaction to the OPCW announcement has been exceptionally muted, even taking into account the time of year. Whilst much of the responsibility for the delay lies with others, it is true that, technically, Syria is in breach of the agreement made with the OPCW, and with major world powers in general. So why are blood-curdling threats not being issued from Washington? Why are aircraft even now not being made ready to bomb declared chemical weapon sites? There are really two reasons.
First, nobody cares any more. As explained in the last Occasional Paper, chemical weapon destruction was never more than a mechanism by which it was agreed that the West would step back from its threats of war, without seeming to give way. Chemical weapons were never really a major factor in the conflict itself, and the latest UN report even adds to the confusion about who actually fired the notorious 21 August missiles and where from. (One of the two missiles, when examined, apparently showed no traces of Sarin). Although western governments still claim that the Assad regime was behind the attacks (and they could well be right) they are also making it clear that they have no plans to do anything about it. The problem of Syrian chemical weapons, inasmuch as it really exists, will be resolved by the destruction process, and that’s it.
Second, it’s not just that enthusiasm for a war with Syria has dribbled away to practically zero. It’s also because the West now realises that Assad is unlikely to fall any time soon, and that the longer the war goes on the more likely it is that Syria will implode disastrously, and effective control of whole regions of the country could pass into the hands not only of groups like Hezbollah (which appears to be fighting as well as one would expect) but also the new Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which is “linked” as the media likes to say, to Al-Qaida, and also seems to be performing well. And the West also has one nervous eye on Lebanon, which is getting caught up in the struggle by proxy.
Therefore the war needs to be brought to an end soon. Therefore the West is backing off its earlier insistence that Assad should go before there could be meaningful talks. Therefore nobody is going to let a little thing like chemical weapon destruction deadlines get in the way.
As it has been from the start, this is an initiative that is condemned to succeed politically, whatever the practical difficulties – which may be even greater than was originally feared.
You can read the full paper here