Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Unstacking Russia’s Syrian Doll

The more the Russian plan to get Syria to hand over its chemical weapons and sign the Chemical Weapons Convention gathers momentum, the more the sceptics try to pick it apart.

Questions: Can we trust the Russians? Can we trust the Syrians, Will they declare all their chemical stocks? Can the operation be done during a civil war?

Answers: Probably Not. Probably Not. Probably Not, & Probably Not.

So it may not work or it may only partially work. If it fully worked Assad will no longer be able to use chemical weapons. If it partially works there will be fewer weapons to potentially fall into the hands of groups even less savoury than Assad and if Assad is caught making and using such weapons again, Russia is unlikely to protect him (they are putting some of their credibility on the line).

But judgements should not be absolute; they should be relative to the alternatives.

Bombing the weapons risks either an escape of chemical agents or the possibility of the weapons falling into the hands of someone other than Assad. Both the Russian and the American “plans” require knowing where the weapons are. The Russian plan has a greater chance of getting the Syrians to make a complete declaration of where they are. The expectation of bombing is probably likely to cause the weapons to be dispersed.

Bombing Assad directly leaves the weapons in the hands of a murderous regime internally fighting to decide on a replacement leader. Removing Assad will not necessarily bring about a more benign democratic regime.

The slower “disarming” option is less likely to be as incendiary as bombing Syria. Would Iran and Hezbollah attack a Russian backed international disarmament group, would they feel a need to attack Israel in retaliation for Assad signing the Chemical Weapons Convention?

Some may feel that the devil is in the promoter; it is more likely that as always the devil is in the detail and it should be constructively worked through.

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