Destroy the Chemical Weapons
In the wake of the Russia deal, it’s time to focus on compliance and verification.

Syrian president Bashar Assad


Will Compliance Be Enforced?

The Obama Administration has made much of the fact that it has retained the right under the draft Framework to take military action if Syria fails to eliminate its chemical-weapons program. Secretary Kerry said, “In the event of noncompliance, we have committed to impose measures under Chapter 7 within the U.N. Security Council.”

The reality is quite different. First, unless Syria actually uses its chemical weapons again during implementation of the Framework for Elimination, the types of noncompliance we can anticipate will almost certainly not rise to the level of noncompliance that will trigger agreement at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, that the noncompliance constitutes “the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.” The type of noncompliance we can anticipate in Syria will include failure to declare all of the stockpiles and failure to fully cooperate with inspections and eliminations. Unfortunately, while these are the kinds of noncompliance that the Bush administration charged as violations of the CWC, the Obama administration has in similar cases merely said that it “cannot certify compliance.”

For example, in 2005, the Bush administration’s finding on Russian noncompliance stated: “The United States judges that Russia is in violation of its CWC obligations because its CWC declaration was incomplete with respect to declaration of production and development facilities, and declaration of chemical agent and weapons stockpiles.” With respect to Iran, the 2005 Noncompliance Report stated: “The United States judges that Iran is in violation of its CWC obligations because Iran is acting to retain and modernize key elements of its CW infrastructure to include an offensive CW R&D capability and dispersed mobilization facilities.”

In contrast, the Obama administration’s most recent report on CWC compliance found, with respect to Russia, that, “based on available information, the United States cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations for declaration of its CWPFs, CW development facilities, and CW stockpiles.” On Iran, the Obama administration found that, “based on available information, the United States cannot certify whether Iran has met its chemical weapons production facility (CWPF) declaration obligations, destroyed its specialized chemical weapons (CW) equipment, transferred CW, or retained an undeclared CW stockpile.”

If the Obama administration cannot even conclude that Russia and Iran, with over a decade of noncompliance, are in violation of the CWC, why should we expect it to do so with respect to Syria?

Second, the Framework places the decision-making on Syrian compliance under the auspices of the OPCW — which has not referred Russian and Iranian violations of the CWC to the UNSC — and the UNSC. Enforcement is given over to the UNSC. If the OPCW Executive Council agrees that there is a violation, the OPCW “should bring the issues directly to the attention of the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.” Once the matter reaches the UNSC, as Lavrov underscored during the September 14 press conference, if the Security Council agrees, the Security Council will take concrete measures “and we have agreed on that.” So even if the U.S. managed to conclude that Syria violated its new obligations, and the OPCW Executive Council with Russian and Iranian members share that conclusion, Russia still has the option in the UNSC of taking the position either that there is no violation, or that the violation does not rise to the level of a “threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” that would justify action. Thus, since the U.S. has agreed that all matters of noncompliance have to be agreed on at the OPCW and UNSC prior to action to enforce compliance, an independent U.S. response — military or otherwise — is even less likely than it was before.


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