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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