Syria Chemical Weapons Pact Is Fantasy Over Experience

Monday, 16 Sep 2013 06:24 PM

By Fred Fleitz

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Obama officials and their supporters were doing victory laps over the weekend claiming that the new U.S.-Russia deal to safeguard and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons is a diplomatic coup for President Barack Obama because he made a credible threat to attack Syria.

This is ridiculous. The Russian and Syrian governments know full well that due to the president’s indecisiveness and lack of political support on this issue in Congress, the chance that he will ever order U.S. forces to attack Syria are close to zero.

This agreement has noble goals, but overall it is unrealistic and naive. It has undermined American credibility on the world stage and strengthened the positions of Presidents Assad and Putin. The agreement has no enforcement mechanism and goes against decades of experience on the difficulties of safeguarding and destroying chemical weapons.

The Obama administration has stopped saying "Assad must go." There's no talk of holding Assad accountable for the over 100,000 killed over the last two years by his security forces. There are no provisions in the agreement for peace talks or a cease-fire.

The Syria agreement is a political lifeline thrown to President Obama by President Putin in response to Obama’s desperate political position on Syria and a verbal gaffe by Secretary of State John Kerry. This wasn’t a magnanimous gesture by Putin — it was a shrewd diplomatic move to exploit President Obama’s weak position to advance Russian interests.

Putin’s offer came with strings attached. A Security Council resolution to implement the agreement will have no mention of the use of force if Assad does not comply. Assad will not be referred to the International Criminal Court for a war crimes investigation or be criticized at all for using chemical weapons.

The agreement says if the Syrian government fails to comply, it will be referred to the U.N. Security Council but is vague about how the Council will respond. Kerry insisted that if this happens, the Security Council "must" impose "measures" under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov immediately corrected, to point out that the agreement says the Council "should" enact measures.

The Obama administration fell into a Russian trap. Russia vetoed several U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria over the past two years to impose U.N. sanctions or to potentially allow a military intervention. Russia made clear in the recent talks with the United States that it will continue to veto resolutions with such language. To prevent the talks from collapsing, the United States had to concede to Russia’s demand to not include the threat of the use of force, or any other consequences, if the Assad government fails to comply with a Security Council resolution to remove and destroy its chemical weapons.

As a result, if Assad refuses to cooperate with the disarmament of his chemical weapons, the Security Council will respond by passing more toothless resolutions.

Finding, safeguarding, and destroying Syria’s huge chemical weapons arsenal under this agreement will be virtually impossible and goes against decades of arms control experience. The agreement proposes to squeeze into a few months, chemical weapons disarmament that has taken four to five years in other countries. This is difficult to do even in peace time. There are no prospects for a cease-fire and Obama officials have not explained how this agreement can be carried out without one. Nor have they explained which countries will send chemical weapons inspectors into Syria while the fighting continues.

It also is unclear whether international troops will be needed to guard Syrian chemical weapons. It is hard to see the Assad government agreeing to this. What if Assad consents only to troops from Russia and Iran?

Finally, Syria will also look to the experiences of its allies Iran and North Korea, both of which are subject to much tougher Security Council resolutions requiring them to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors full access to their nuclear facilities. Neither state has fully complied with these resolutions. Since 2005, the IAEA has demanded access to a facility in Iran where nuclear warhead experiments reportedly were conducted. U.N. sanctions resolutions against these two states have been weak, and there’s never been any prospect of the U.N. authorizing the use of military force in response to their noncompliance.

The Security Council’s failure to hold Iran and North Korea accountable for refusing to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors shows Assad how he can defy a new UN resolution on his chemical weapons and get away with it. Syria will probably engage in similar defiance and foot-dragging tactics. With Russia insisting that the Syrian rebels and not the Assad regime probably used chemical weapons last month, Moscow is likely to dispute any Western claims that Assad is not complying with U.N. weapons inspectors.

All Americans should want the new U.S.-Russia agreement to succeed so the Assad regime cannot use chemical weapons again and to keep these weapons out of the hands of al-Qaida and other radical Islamist groups. But the chances of this happening are low since this agreement is not grounded in reality. It is a fantasy that a chemical weapons disarmament agreement this complex can be carried out in a war zone without a cease-fire or an enforcement mechanism. Russia and China are not going to allow the UN Security Council to authorize the use of force or sanctions if Assad does not comply.

What we’re left with is an agreement that has boosted Russian influence in the Middle East and cemented power in its close ally, Syrian President Assad, at the expense of the United States. I therefore concur with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have described the agreement as "morally and strategically indefensible" and that it "requires a willful suspension of disbelief to see this agreement as anything other than the start of a diplomatic blind alley."

Fred Fleitz served for 25 years in U.S. national security positions with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently Chief Analyst with LIGNET.com, Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service. Click HERE to read the latest LIGNET analysis of the Syria situation.

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