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Syria Cheats

10:01 AM, Jan 30, 2014 • By DAVID SCHENKER
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Not surprisingly, the accuracy of Syria’s inventory declaration to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is already in question. According to the OPCW, for example, the Assad regime declared “approximately 1,000 metric tons” of binary chemical weapons precursors, a number that seems too oddly coincident with Secretary Kerry’s earlier formulation that that Syria “has “about a thousand metric tons” of these agents. (Is it possible that U.S. intelligence assessments are so precise?) Likewise, according to non-proliferation experts, given the size and scope of the CW program the fact that the Assad regime declared absolutely no filled chemical munitions is a glaring red flag. 

At present, it is too soon to tell whether the Assad regime is violating its chemical weapons commitments. After having killed so many Syrians with conventional armaments, it’s difficult to see why the Assad regime would see a need to retain a residual chemical arsenal. Perhaps over the past 13 years, Bashar has come to understand that there is no cost associated with cheating.

Indeed, objectively speaking, the use of chemical weapons has changed the dynamic on the ground in Syria and in the international community, effectively strengthening the Assad regime. Not only did the regime avoid a promised U.S. military strike, as UN Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi noted in October, the chemical weapons deal transformed Assad from a “pariah” into a “partner.”

In the coming months—even as Damascus continues its genocidal war against its political opponents--more blandishments are sure to be lavished on Assad. The regime will be praised for fulfilling its commitments, and the rebels may even be condemned for undermining security and delaying the disarmament process. And eventually, the U.N.—and the Obama administration—will pronounce Syria free of chemical weapons. 

Shortly after the agreement was reached to steel Assad’s chemical arsenal out of Syria, Secretary of State Kerry sought to preempt critics of the deal. “We're not just going to trust and verify,” he assured, “We're going to verify, and verify, and verify.”  Alas, because the Chemical Weapons Convention provides signatories the right to manage access to facilities and does not mandate intrusive inspections, verification is at best a relative term.  And then, of course there is the matter of Assad’s penchant for lying.        

At the kickoff of the Geneva II peace conference on January 22, Syrian foreign minister Walid Moualem told U.N. secretary general Ban Ki Moon “Syria always keeps its promises.” Western Governments should know better. When it comes to keeping international obligations, Syria’s Bashar Assad regime seldom keeps it promises. Given the absence of consequences for pursuing nuclear and deploying chemical weapons, the inescapable take away for Assad is that when it comes to dictators and WMD, the old aphorism that “winners never cheat and cheaters never win” doesn’t apply.   

David Schenker is director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

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