27 Sep 2013

Syria: what the draft UN resolution on chemical weapons really means

How far have things moved in a few weeks…Not that long ago, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, was racking up the air miles and red-eye flights assembling yet another coalition of the wiling to partake in the imminent bombing of President Assad’s forces and facilities across Syria. There was overt talk of regime change.

But there never was regime change. There never was bombing. There never was a vote in either house of the US congress. There was never even agreement about who had carried out the terrible attack of 21 August.27_UN_g_w

Late to the game but fast to the front – from the Petersburg summit onwards – it is the Russians who have beaten and wrong-footed the White House at every turn on the Syrian chemical weapons issue.

So it is that we arrive at today’s draft UN Security Council resolution which calls on members of the organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons to make donations to fund a fast-tracked destruction operation negotiated between Russia and the United States. We wait until we see the money of course.

But here’s the critical bit: no mention in this draft of force being used if this does not happen at all. The Americans until very recently have been wandering around saying the option of force still lies on the table. Except it doesn’t. To get that the UNSC would have to vote again and the Russians of course would veto. The US could go it alone but with every day of non-congress-voted bluster the position of the White House weakens.

The victory , diplomatically, for the Russia-Iran- Syrian axis on this is as breathtaking as it is complete. In effect President Obama has won nothing at all except time and the sense that all this has drifted off-agenda and the non-vote and non-showdown with congress disappears behind him like a bad smell that won’t quite go away.

Yet news today that at least three more suspected chemical weapons attacks are now under investigation around Damascus alone, since the 21 August slaughter. And don’t forget the UN weapons inspectors were only in Damascus on that day in order to probe previous alleged CW attacks up country from the capital. That work still remains on the shelf and pending somehow.

In sum, people go on dying in what certainly look like CW attacks even since that terrible day. We are not much (despite the rhetoric of Cameron, Hague, Obama and Kerry) closer to apportioning any real blame for what is happening in Syria. And Syrians continue to die horribly from conventional and quite possible CW weapons across the country as the war rolls on.

It is hoped that the mandated mission, if voted through, could begin as early as Tuesday. Then we shall see again whose writ really runs in all this. Is it the noise of US and UK governments in demanding something somehow must be done? Or is it the realpolitik or Moscow, calmly outplaying the west in all this at every turn?

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7 reader comments

  1. Nicholas Hillier says:

    It would be fascinating to know precisely what was said during the meeting between The Russian and US foreign secretaries after the recent G20 summit on which occasion it is (now) alleged that the possible surrender of Syria’s chemical weapons was canvassed. Certainly nothing was mentioned of any such discussions until after the Russian brokered offer precipitated by Kerry’s off-piste remarks in response to a journalist’s question at a news conference.

    It has certainly saved Kerry’s boss the virtual certainty of a humiliating defeat in Congress and the Senate but the net beneficiaries seem most likely to be the Russians and their client allies, Syria and Iran; the latter of which has compounded the US’s discomfort by launching what seems likely to be an effective diplomatic initiative to deal with the issue of its nuclear ambitions.

    As regards the UN resolution and the OPCW’s mission to identify and destroy Syria’s CW arsenal, it has neither the resources nor staff to undertake an operation on such a scale. Even given the resources, the prospect of an inspection team poking about the Syrian desert in the middle of a civil war is frankly laughable.

    As events in Kenya demonstrate, the real (as opposed to propagandist) threat from terrorism is rarely to be found amongst the usual suspects.

    N Hillier

    1. Philip says:

      Of course had Obama been a white Republican President, those Republicans planning to vote against him in Congress would have voted in the opposite way in exactly the same circumstances.

  2. John Slinger says:

    Well said, Alex.

    I argue similar here http://slingerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/this-of-diplomacy-is-abdication-of.html that this is less a ‘triumph’ of diplomacy and more the abdication of the Responsibility to Protect.

  3. quietoaktree says:

    With the USA and Britain expecting a ´double whammy´ between the eyes –this is looking interesting.

    Syria gives up its nerve gas and Iran its (supposed) nuclear bomb research is a nightmare for some –perhaps becoming reality. Panic buttons are being pressed in USA, UK and Israel as the worst of all possible outcomes is developing before their eyes — the logical request that Israel do the same.

    The West (and Israel) can only HOPE that Assad and Rouhani are lying or cannot deliver. A Sunni extremist victory in Syria comes with a far higher price tag, if Syria and Iran are not our allies against Al Queda.

  4. Philip says:

    Or one might say that a reasonably decent man who plainly didn’t want to get involved in another military conflict abroad took advantage of an opportunity which his corrupt & amoral opponent only offered because of the threat of force against his murderous protégé. Obama stepped off the treadmill of neo-con intervention at the behest of Israel & took the path of dialogue and peace rather than a further escalation of violence which military intervention would have caused. Your interpretation might flatter Putin, but it does nothing to help a US President take the same honourable course next time around.
    And we might also remind ourselves that it was Ed Milliband’s decision to vote against intervention that deprived the US of their usual cheer-leader & encouraged Obama to use consulting with Congress to delay any action, therefore providing time for a peaceful solution to be developed.
    To be honest, I don’t find kicking the teeth of someone who’s decided against military action very edifying.

  5. Andrew Dundas says:

    Big sigh of relief amongst the military in both the US and UK.

    After 13 years of dusty, dirty war, we should offer some Rn’R to the poor bloody infantry.

    Putin’s weak “red Army” – now a dusty shade of faded pink – is relieved too.

    Obama’s bluff has won. Congress has had cold feet. And Putin’s not tested either.

    It’s jaw-jaw. Not war-war. At last!

    On the whole it’s possible that some kind of peace can be found that doesn’t involve having our soldiers once again substituting for timid politicos.

    Well done Obama. Well done Putin too.

  6. Philip Edwards says:


    I hope whoever carried out the chemical weapons massacre is identified, tried democratically, and if guilty locked up for the rest of his/her natural life. That applies to the regime, the “rebels” or anyone else who could conceivably have delivered a false flag attack on behalf of the Western nutjobs in the “intelligence” services. Gawd knows there’s enough examples of the latter. Furthermore, the worst chemical weapons attacks in history were carried out by the USA in Vietnam.

    If Putin managed to avert yet another Western invasion and mass murder then it is to be welcomed. Even arch-imperialist and war-monger Winston Churchill late in his life came to believe jaw-jaw is better than war-war. Pity that lesson has never been learned by the neocon crackpots in the USA and Europe. The Syrians and Middle East regimes have enough of their own without adding to them.

    Incidentally, tens of thousands have been out demonstrating in the streets of Bahrain with scarce a mention in Western media. Wouldn’t have anything to do with the presence of the US fleet there would it?

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