The seminal Reagan stance of “Trust but Verify” when dealing with our Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, is a good starting point for evaluating the proposal floated by the Russian Federation for Bashar al-Assad to turnover his chemical weapons stockpile. But in the current context, we cannot “trust” any of the parties—not the Russian Federation, not the United Nations, and certainly not Assad.
The most recent Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions underscored the ongoing WMD activities of rogue regimes such as Iran and Syria.
It also noted that Russian entities continued to sell technologies and components in the Middle East and South Asia that could support WMD programs—this, in addition to the well-documented Russian support of the Assad regime by providing it with conventional weapons. Yet, the Administration did not sanction Russia under the Iran, North Korea, Syria Nonproliferation Act.
One must therefore ask how Moscow would benefit from any process that gives it a role in uncovering and “securing” Syria’s chemical weapons.
Second: the UN
The U.S. and other responsible nations are to entrust Syria’s chemical weapons to the same system that has failed miserably in:
- holding the regime accountable and has allowed Syria to be elected twice to the human rights committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)?
- detecting Syria’s covert nuclear program and in its investigations into the al-Kibar nuclear site following its destruction by a reported Israeli raid in the Fall of 2007?
Third (and Finally): Assad … No need to elaborate here.
Looking at the overall proposal, there are a number of loopholes that also need to be addressed:
- is there real-time intelligence on the location and scope of the chemical weapons stockpile and facilities? Information that was valid and accurate a week and a half ago, may no longer be viable.
- who will secure these materials? Does the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have the structure and capacity to secure and destroy these weapons? Should not the U.S. insist on having our experts be part of any international team?
- why focus solely on chemical weapons, why not include security and destruction of all WMD-related materials?
- will there be a UN Security Council resolution to compel Assad to comply, to bind all Syrian parties to non-proliferation, and to hold accountable all state and non-state future suppliers of WMD materials and technology to Syria?
- what verification mechanisms, ongoing inspection regimes will be instituted to prevent WMD transfers to Syrian territory?
- If there are violations of the agreement by any party, what are the consequences for these? Will future military intervention be attached to the proposal?
Further, regarding the oft-referenced deterrent effect on Iranian calculations, the Administration and the so-called international community must adopt a more robust, comprehensive strategy toward Tehran to accompany a Syria disarmament proposal.
The country and world await the President’s address this evening in the hope that these and other questions will be addressed.