Telegraph: Syria, chemical weapons, and the worst day in Western diplomatic historyPosted: September 10, 2013
Charles Crawford writes: Monday 9 September, 2013, was the worst day for US and wider Western diplomacy since records began.
At the Foreign Office here in London we had the bizarre spectacle of US Secretary of State John Kerry giving a businesslike account of diplomatic incentives:
If one party believes that it can rub out countless numbers of his own citizens with impunity using chemicals that have been banned for nearly 100 years because of what Europe learned in World War I, if he can do that with impunity, he will never come to a negotiating table … If you don’t draw those lines, and the civilized world is not prepared to enforce those lines, you are giving complete license to people to do whatever they want
However, almost in the same breath John Kerry blew up the logic of his own position by assuring a bemused world that any bombing by the United States would be “unbelievably small”.
During his presentation he also made a mock-sarcastic suggestion in response to a question about how Assad might stop an attack:
He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.
This prompted a speedy response from Moscow suggesting that Russia would work with Syria on a programme to abandon its chemical weapons. And this in turn was seized on by President Obama as a way out of his looming disaster in winning Congressional approval to respond with military force to the use of CW in Syria.
Think about what will happen if the Russian initiative starts to fly.
Chemical weapons are relatively easy to make and store (and fire), but much harder to dismantle safely. The chemicals themselves are fiendishly dangerous and need to be destroyed with specialist equipment without creating environmental hazards. Plus the explosive part of the delivery shell needs careful handling. Destroying CW stocks is therefore a complex and expensive operation, even under calm conditions. Both the United States and Russia have both heavily failed to meet internationally agreed deadlines for destroying their massive Cold War legacy chemical weapons stocks.
There is no precedent for attempting anything like this in a country wracked by civil war. It just can’t happen. No Syrian chemical weapons will be destroyed or “handed over” quickly.
Meanwhile any new process of setting up an international monitoring and destruction regime will require painstaking UN and wider negotiation with the Assad regime, thereby giving Assad and his state apparatus a massive boost of renewed confidence and legitimacy. Before long Washington may find itself locked on to implicitly or even explicitly supporting Assad in his civil war as the best chance to get some sort of internationally agreed CW destruction programme delivered in Syria.
How has this happened?
- Assad: ‘Expect everything’ in response to attack (sacbee.com)
- Kerry: Syrian handover of all chemical arms could prevent attack – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Assad warns of retaliation for US strike on Syria (sfgate.com)
- Kerry Gaffes; The Russians Blink (dish.andrewsullivan.com)
- John Kerry on Syria: Assad has one week to hand over chemical weapons arsenal and avoid attack (independent.co.uk)
- Assad warns of repercussions for a US strike (sfgate.com)
- Vladimir Putin Puts John Kerry In Check On Syria (businessinsider.com)
- Assad: ‘Expect everything’ in response to attack (sfgate.com)
- US weighs talk of Syria dumping chemical weapons (kansascity.com)