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

Syrian president Bashar Assad

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A Russian Guarantee?

On the positive side of the ledger, no nation has compiled as much knowledge about the production and concealment of chemical weapons as Russia has. Moreover, no other nation has taken Syria as a client state. Therefore, if Russia took responsibility as guarantor of Syrian compliance, they would have the knowledge and leverage to force Syria to actually eliminate its chemical-weapons program.

Thus far, Russia has been able to seek a low-cost leadership role on Syria. Leadership, however, should go beyond issuing vetoes in the UNSC and gaining agreement to an international effort to find and eliminate Syria’s chemical-weapons program that is likely to fail. True leadership requires taking responsibility.

Russian credibility should be made to stand or fall on the rapid and total securing and elimination of Syria’s chemical-agent production, stockpiles, and means of delivery. Russia should publicly take responsibility, preferably in a formal manner, for ensuring that Syria complies. If Syria again uses chemical weapons, Russia may deny the fact of Syria’s action, but the rest of the world should hold Russia as well as Syria responsible. If Russia takes responsibility, a positive result is more likely.

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Who Should Pay the Tab?

At the September 14 news conference, Secretary Kerry said that the Framework includes “a clause in which we agreed that we will contribute resources, including finance to some degree. We have a certain amount of budget for this kind of purpose.” While the U.S. and other nations should stand ready to assist as necessary, the American people should not be expected to pay for Syria to eliminate its chemical-weapons program. During the verification and elimination of Libya’s nuclear, chemical, biological, and longer-range-missile weapons programs, the U.S. made it clear to the Libyans that the cost of eliminating their chemical-weapons program was their responsibility.

The September 14 Framework provides for the participation of U.N. member states, but tasks the OPCW with primary responsibility for inspection and elimination. This will not be cost-free. Funding for the OPCW is provided under a system of assessed contributions based on the U.N. scale of assessments. Based on the latest scale, the U.S. pays 22 percent and Russia pays 2.438 percent. Syria’s percentage is 0.036 percent. While we don’t know the OPCW price tag for the Syria project, the United States and its allies — unless a special provision is made at the Executive Council — will bear the vast majority of the cost of OPCW participation, while Russia will pay little and Syria almost nothing. Syria, not the U.S. and the rest of the world, should finance elimination of its CW program.

Conclusion

The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty created the Standing Consultative Commission (SCC), where matters of implementation and compliance were to be discussed. Richard Perle, assistant secretary of defense for policy in the Reagan administration, once summed up the problem of such fora when he said that the SCC was the black hole into which Soviet violations were dumped. Expectations about the success of the U.S.-Russia draft Framework for elimination of Syrian CW should be minimal. Moreover, Syria’s slaughter of its people, the issue of its use of its CW to kill more of its people, and its nuclear- and biological-weapons programs should not be dumped into a black hole created by the Framework.  

— Paula A. DeSutter served as assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance from 2002 to 2009. During that time, she oversaw the U.S. assistance to the project of eliminating the Libyan nuclear, chemical, biological, and longer-range-missile weapons programs.



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