How to Secure Syria's Chemical Weapons

Article excerpt

The blatant use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces requires a strong international response. A limited military strike as laid out by President Obama in his speech to the nation last night remains an important option of last resort. Another even more effective option is for the international community to secure and destroy Syria's sizeable cache of these weapons, a possibility that suddenly surfaced this week when it was strongly pushed by Russia. This, too, is doable - though very difficult.

The raging civil war makes the work of weapons inspectors more challenging. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has not been forthcoming about even possessing chemical weapons, which are strewn around the country, and Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Diplomatic hurdles to a deal abound. Such obstacles would have to be overcome to effectively control and destroy these horrific weapons. But that's not impossible. Here's how such a plan could work.

First, Mr. Assad would have to pledge to immediately accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention and declare his chemical stockpiles, production facilities, and related laboratories as required under the treaty. This would not only help to reassure the international community, it would provide a legal framework and road map for how to secure these weapons of mass destruction.

Immediately thereafter, Assad would have to allow inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which implements the treaty, to visit all sites under an agreed timetable to inventory and secure the munitions and facilities. The organization's required schedule for this is typically 60-90 days, but given the current circumstances, these steps can and should be accelerated and could be done in just a few weeks.

Syria's pledge to join the Chemical Weapons Convention should be accompanied by a UN Security Council resolution that:

Condemns the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Forbids further use of chemical weapons under any circumstances.

Demands that Syria immediately sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, declare its stockpile, and allow inspectors immediate access to and control of all chemical weapons storage and production sites.

Calls upon all other states that have not yet joined the convention - Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan - to do so immediately.

In addition, the plan for international control of Syria's chemical stockpiles would require an effective enforcement mechanism. As the Obama administration has noted, Russia's pursuit and Syria's acceptance of the concept in principle have only come after the threat of the use of force. In order to ensure that Syria fully implements its commitments, the Security Council would likely have to agree that "serious action" by council members, including the use of force, would be warranted if there are flagrant violations by Assad.

Reaching agreement on this framework will be tough. Unfortunately, the UN Security Council has not even issued a press release condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, due to Russian opposition. Syria has to date refused to join the chemical weapons treaty since it was opened for signature in 1993.

Any Syrian government chemical weapons demilitarization initiative would have to be overseen very carefully in order to make sure Assad is fully declaring all of his stockpiles. …