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
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
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. …