Syria – Changes for a Better Future
Just a week ago, the situation in Syria looked dire. The international community agreed that chemical weapons had been used, but there was no consensus on whether the government or the rebels had used them. The Obama administration said that it had evidence that the weapons had been used by the government, going so far as to ask Congress to authorize the use of force. Legislation to that effect was moving forward in the Senate while Iran threatened strikes against US allies in the region in the event of military intervention. Geopolitical relationships that were thought to be solid were strained when the British Parliament voted against military intervention, and already rocky relationships took a turn for the worst when both the United States and Russia sent ships into the region. There was a very real threat of a civil war and humanitarian crisis that involved a tenth of Syria’s population being rendered refugees turning into the next world war.
Although there’s still a long way to go in the process before tensions calm down to the point where an international conflict no longer seems plausible, the situation has improved considerably since then. Whether it was due to Russian influence over the Syrian government, President Obama’s threat of using military force, an attempt by the Syrian government to gain international support, or a combination of these and other factors, nobody can tell for sure. What is clear, though, is that the Syrian government is at least saying the right things to relieve tensions and end whatever participation they may have had in the use of chemical weapons.
The Syrian government agreed to adhere to the Chemical Weapons Convention and eliminate those in their possession. On Saturday, the United States and Russia came to an agreement on a plan to make that happen safely and expeditiously. As part of that plan, they will ask the UN Secretary-General, working with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to make recommendations to the UN Security Council regarding methods of expediting the process. The plan also calls for Syria to provide a complete and detailed list of the chemical weapons it currently has. The deal also says that Syria must permit the UN and OPCW to conduct inspections of all sites in the country.
The plan is not yet complete, and major disagreements still need to be resolved. The biggest is that the United States and the Russian Federation have not yet agreed on whether to include the threat of the use of force should Syria fail to comply. This difference may remain unresolved as the two countries, which could hardly be considered allies, work feverishly to avoid a proxy war that would be reminiscent of those that took place during the Cold War.
Syria’s civil war continues to rage on, but progress is being made on the issue of chemical weapons. Countries that are generally considered opponents, if not enemies, are coming together at the negotiating table rather than on the battlefield to create workable solutions to avoid turning a deadly domestic conflict turn into a devastating global one. Nobody can say for sure how the process will play out or whether other countries will get involved in the fighting, but what can be said is that the international community is doing everything it can to eliminate the use of chemical weapons in Syria without intervening militarily.