[Published 11 September 2013]
Russia’s President Putin will dictate the terms of any UN Security Council Resolution calling for the collection and destruction of chemical weapons in Syria - no matter what bluster or spin emanates from America, the United Kingdom and France.
The world has no real option but to accept and trust that Russia’s terms for collecting and destroying those chemical weapons will succeed.
This crisis - arising from the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 - has already lead to the death of 1429 civilians including 426 children.
The threat of further use of chemical weapons in the 30 month old conflict - that has so far seen more than 100000 deaths, 2 million refugees and another 5 million Syrians becoming displaced citizens in their own country - must not be allowed by the international community to possibly be repeated again.
That is why a Security Council resolution agreed to by all 5 Permanent Members of the Security Council needs to be passed without filibustering or delay.
Middle East Live reports:
“Russia is working on an “effective, concrete” plan for putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and is discussing the details with Damascus, according to the latest announcement from its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov told reporters the plan would be presented to other nations soon and that the proposal, which he announced on Monday, was not entirely Russian but grew out of contacts with the United States, Reuters reports.”
Reuters has quoted Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei as welcoming the Russian proposal - making it even clearer that the terms of the final Security Council resolution will be those acceptable to Russia.
Bridget Kendall - diplomatic correspondent for BBC news rightly observes:
“But any draft resolution could easily get bogged down in arguments over the terms and the language used. Already the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has warned that any UN Security Council Resolution would need to be backed up by tough conditions, with a short timeframe and a warning of severe consequences if it was not implemented. Would Russia agree to that? Not on recent form.”
With the greatest respect to Fabius - he has discharged a lot of hot air on this crisis so far. He is in no position to dictate the terms of any resolution - nor indeed are Obama and Cameron.
Threatening a military attack if their terms are not accepted will be met with incredulity and world wide opposition.
So what will Russia’s draft resolution presented to the Security Council look like?
Some hint was given by Russia’s Ambassador to Jordan - Alexander Kaluginon on the BBC Today programme - as reported by James Meikle
“Calling for the “international community” to send in professionals to “secure and verify” , Kalugin admitted such an operation would be difficult but “It is much better to do a difficult job than go ahead with a military option.”"
The task certainly will not be easy and will involve considerable risks to those having to firstly secure - then arrange for the collection and removal of the chemical weapons to a destination for safe storage prior to destruction.
Writing in May in the Global and Mail, Cheryl Rofer from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and analyst Aaron Stein, explained the practical steps involved:
“Syria is believed to have production facilities near Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs, as well as suspected storage sites in Latakia and Palmyra. The military would have to, in the fog of war, move in quickly to secure suspected facilities and find others…
Once the facilities are found and secured, they must be made safe. Initially, a specialized team would have to check for signs of sabotage, booby traps, deliberately released agents, or other potentially hazardous situations, including war damage. After getting the all-clear, an inspection team would begin the task of accounting for Mr. al-Assad’s chemical stockpile. Internal records and inventory lists would be an essential part of this, but a physical inventory would also be necessary.
Current amounts of precursors and agents in storage drums and munitions would be compared with the facility’s inventory lists. If a commander, for example, has failed to keep adequate records, an inspector tasked with producing an inventory of a Syrian chemical weapon facility could never state with 100 per cent confidence that none of the weapons had been stolen or used. The inventory would also serve as basis for planning the destruction of the materials.
After the stockpile has been inventoried, the weapons and stocks of agents and precursors would have to be destroyed. The inherent handling difficulties of these materials argue against shipping them to another country for destruction…
...The most difficult part of destroying the weapons is separating the explosives from the highly toxic agents.”
The operation could take years.
The draft resolution could call for an internationally supervised cease fire to be applied for a limited period of time - which would certainly bring some respite to the hell endured by Syria’s civilian population during this long conflict.
Russia’s Foreign Minister has reportedly said that after Russia and Syria work out the details of their chemical weapons offer they will then be ready to finalize the plan together with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Russia’s draft resolution will certainly be awaited with interest.
Time is certainly of the essence whilst those chemical weapons are not under UN control.