Russia's improvised solution is logistically and morally unsoundby Lucy Webster / September 11, 2013 / Leave a comment
One sure sign of a crisis is that the ground shifts so often that one starts to feel seasick. That is certainly a good description of the situation in Syria. In the past 24 hours everything has changed. The make-or-break Congress vote was cancelled, military action indefinitely postponed—perhaps forever.
What caused such a turnaround? Believe it or not, the Russians may have found a solution which everyone can almost agree on; for the Assad regime to give up its chemical weapons to international control. They would be secured by UN inspectors and then destroyed. This, on the face of it, is a simple, effective solution, which would prevent any further war crimes. It also gives the US and Russia a reason to unfreeze their relationship, which could be the key to finding long-term peace.
How this came about is a marvel of slip-ups and coincidences. In a speech earlier this week the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, made a flippant remark during an interview in which he indicated that US military strikes against Assad’s arms capabilities could be halted if he gave up his chemical weapons. The Russian Foreign Ministry promptly seized on this as a way to protect their ally and, accordingly, their strategic influence in the Middle East, where their control over Syria and Iran acts as a counter to American dominance. Within hours the Russians had drafted a resolution that would see the weapons secured and destroyed. Scared by the prospect of American firepower landing on its doorstep, the Syrian regime readily endorsed the plan—they had spotted a very convenient way out.
This is not the panacea it seems; there are two very big flaws in Russia’s scheme. Firstly, it is a logistical minefield. The only organisation which could conceivably take on the task of securing the weapons is the UN. But there is no precedent here: this is not a job for traditional peacemaking troops, yet it is unheard of for the UN to put large numbers of weapons inspectors on the grounds in the middle of a conflict. There isn’t anyone to do the job. In addition, it could be impossible to safely extract the weapons, which creates the possibility…