Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Okay, now he can't move them

Assad, that is. His chemical weapons. Because he's signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and declared them.  In the LA Times, Shashank Bengali reports:
Syrian President Bashar Assad has disclosed the locations of dozens of poison gas production and storage sites to international inspectors, according to Western officials.

Officials familiar with Assad's disclosure — the first step in complying with an ambitious U.S.-Russian plan to seize and remove or destroy his arsenal of chemical weapons by mid-2014 — described it Tuesday as "a serious document" that comprises scores of pages and is surprisingly thorough.'

Information in the closely guarded document roughly tracks with U.S. intelligence estimates that Syria has about 45 sites used to produce or store illicit blister agents or neurotoxins...Syria submitted the declaration over the weekend to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the implementation and compliance arm of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The OPCW administers the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Convention stipulates (Article IV, paragraph 4) that once such a declaration is made,

Each State Party shall, immediately after the declaration under Article III,
paragraph 1 (a), has been submitted, provide access to chemical weapons specified in paragraph 1 for the purpose of systematic verification of the declaration through on site inspection.  Thereafter, each State Party shall not remove any of these chemical weapons, except to a chemical weapons destruction facility.  It shall provide access to such chemical weapons, for the purpose of systematic on site verification.
Of course, Assad might violate the Convention and the pending Security Council resolution at any stage of the process, and the consequences of a verified violation are still a bone of contention. The U.S.-Russian Framework agreement stipulates enforcement under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes the Security Council to use both non-military and military means, and the Russians remain a bulwark against the use of force. Nonetheless, Assad as of now will be in violation of the Convention he signed if he moves any chemical weapons anywhere other than a chemical weapons destruction facility.

I will say though that there's a grammatical ambiguity above: does "thereafter" mean after the country in question has "provided access" -- "immediately" after the declaration -- or after inspection? And is access in some sense provided prior to the actual inspection, in this case stipulated to begin in November? These ambiguities may not be fully resolvable, as the Convention is structured to assume voluntary compliance. In any case, failure to provide "immediate" access is itself a violation, and movement of the weapons would compromise that access..

My working assumption is that, while the presence of chemical weapons in Syria is likely to outlast Assad, the purpose of the agreement is to prevent their further use. The use itself is the most basic and primary violation -- specifically, of Article I:  "Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never under any circumstances...To use chemical weapons." The chances of it serving that limited objective seem good.

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