Efforts must be made to re-invigorate the UN-sponsored Geneva peace processby Karin von Hippel / April 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
Last week, the United States, French and UK governments justified their limited attacks on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities on the grounds that the Assad regime had breached an internationally accepted barrier—he had used chemical weapons.
Efforts have been made to outlaw chemical weapons for over a century, starting with the 1925 Geneva Protocol and culminating in the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which came into force in 1997 when the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was established. Today, 192 states or parties are signatories: every country except South Sudan, North Korea and Egypt. Israel has signed but not ratified it.
The Syrian government acceded to the convention in 2013, as part of the deal negotiated by Russia to prevent military strikes, after chemical weapons were first used in Syria. Russia guaranteed the removal of all Syria’s chemical weapons and in June 2014, the joint UN-OPCW mission to Syria announced that the task of removing declared chemical weapons was complete. Mission accomplished.
Or not, as subsequent attacks—verified by the UN-OPCW—have revealed. Since 2013, there have been more chemical attacks by the regime than many realise. This past January, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, established by the UN Human Rights Council, confirmed that there have been at least 34 chemical attacks in the country since 2013, the majority carried out by the regime. Human Rights Watch has counted many more, at 85.
The Syrian government is not abiding by its obligations. And the Russian government is not guaranteeing much of anything. Instead it has wielded its veto at the UN Security Council 12 times to block action against the Assad regime.
Theresa May argued that last week’s military strikes were in Britain’s “national interest”—May, Trump and Macron emphasised that the strikes were not about nation-building, but to deter the use of chemical weapons and prevent their use being “normalised.”
It is important to ensure that these weapons remain beyond the pale. But if the US, UK, France and other countries remain too narrowly focused on chemical weapons in Syria, they would be setting a dangerous precedent.
Over the past few weeks, pundits and even some politicians have begun suggesting that, as Assad is winning the war, we should stop interfering—that what we are doing is…