An alarming precedent in international relations is being established in Syria by rewarding gassing civilians
The worst fears of those who doubted the wisdom and effectiveness of the agreement between the international community and the Assad regime to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and capability are rapidly being realized. Today’s “deadline” to ship the most serious material out of the country produced no movement. And a new precedent in international relations with potentially far-reaching and alarming consequences – call it “the Assad equation” – is unmistakably unfolding.
Whatever signals the West intended to send through the agreement, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has clearly taken it as an implicit green light to use all other weapons with increasing intensity in his onslaught against both rebels and Syria’s defenseless civilian population.
The way the regime is “implementing” the agreement demonstrates they see it primarily as a useful distraction for the international community from the vicious war it is conducting against the Syrian people. The regime probably doesn’t care that much about chemical weapons. But, as they are making abundantly clear, when they can avoid compliance, they will.
Reports suggest that today’s “deadline” for shipping most of its chemical weapons stockpile out of the country is being systematically procrastinated. Indeed, according to reports by those involved in the process on the UN and international side, the weapons have not even begun to be moved.
Anyone who finds it convenient can cite logistics, winter weather, and, of course, the ongoing conflict for such “delays.” All of these complications were fully understood and, presumably, factored into the equation when the December 31 deadline was agreed upon. But the process required to ensure that Syria retains no chemical weapons in the timeframe the agreement sets forth was always implausible at best and, at worst, practically impossible to either accomplish or verify.
The plan to transport Syria’s declared 1,200 tons of chemical weapons material requires its transfer from 12 different sites around the country by road to the northwestern port of Latakia. This means, in effect, that the agreement both relies on and therefore implicitly endorses military measures the regime can claim are necessary to secure the areas required for this macabre long-haul convoy.
The agreement not only makes Assad a partner with the international community in the project of getting rid of his own chemical weapons following their use against civilians, but it can also be cited to justify regime offensives in order to ensure their control of all the necessary areas and roads for this transfer.
International authorities say the regime now has “virtually all” of the necessary “logistical and security assets” in order to bring these weapons to Latakia. But to cite this as a positive development can also only mean de facto endorsement of regime control over key areas and transportation corridors of the country.
Assad, therefore, appears to have discovered or pioneered a new principle of international relations: lost legitimacy can be restored, and a consensus in favor of regime change can be profoundly compromised by dumping poison gas on civilians, including hundreds of children.
This, then, is “the Assad equation,” and dictators around the world must surely be taking note of the increasingly obvious and substantial benefits to the regime of having committed a heinous war crime.
Worse still, there is no sign that the international community’s patience is being particularly tested by how the agreement is playing out. The regime is predictably dragging the process on as long as possible, which they will certainly continue to do, citing any number of plausible-seeming technical and security problems.
Worst of all, and although the West and the United States could not have intended this, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Assad dictatorship regards the chemical weapons-focused process as, in practice, providing cover for an intensification of massive attacks, including of unarmed civilians, by even the fiercest “conventional” weapons.
The ongoing barrel bombing onslaught in Aleppo in which at least 500 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in recent days exemplify this dynamic. International eyebrows are hardly raised by such butchery anymore.
Indeed, the main development in the Western policy conversation since the agreement – the increasing use of heavy weapons against Syrian civilians notwithstanding – has been the emergence of establishment constituencies that openly endorse the survival of the regime as “the least bad option” for the West in Syria.
Today’s will hardly be the last missed deadline or breach of the agreement. An endless string of them may be readily anticipated. Meanwhile, Syria will continue to be immolated as the rest of the world shrugs or, in the case of Russia and Iran, applauds.
As things stand, the “Assad equation” is emerging as a chilling but unmistakable new principle of international relations. And there seems little interest in Washington or other Western capitals in correcting this perilous precedent.