So Kerry and Lavrov did end up hammering out a deal on Syria. I won’t go into the specifics here, but I want to focus on what is the single most important issue at stake: the risk of US aggression against Syria. And here, the picture is murky at best.
First the BBC had a headline saying “US to drop military threat“. But then in another article posted just a few hours later, the BBC correspondent said that Kerry outlined the agreement like this:
- The amount and type of chemical weapons must be agreed and “rapidly” placed under international control
- Syria must submit within one week a comprehensive listing of its stockpiles
- Extraordinary procedures under the Chemical Weapons Convention will allow “expeditious destruction”
- Syria must give inspectors “immediate, unfettered access” to all sites
- All chemical weapons must be destroyed, including the possibility of removing weapons from Syrian territory
- UN will provide logistical support, and compliance would be enforced under Chapter VII
So what is really going on? Have the Americans removed their threat of military aggression or not?
Actually, Russia Today provides the answer:
If Damascus fails to comply with the plan, a response in accordance with UN Charter Chapter 7 will follow, Kerry said, in a reference to the use of military force. The chapter provides for “action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security” in the event other measures fail.
But Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said the agreement did not include any potential use of force against Syria. He however said that deviations from the plan, including attacks on UN inspectors, would be brought to the UN Security Council, which would decide on further action.
There is no prior agreement about what form the Security Council’s measures might take if Syria does not comply, Kerry said.
Ok, now the picture is clear. Let me paraphrase what the agreement actually says. What the deal foresees is a sequence in time. And there are clearly two interpretations here:
IF the Syrians do not comply THEN the UNSC will meet to decide on what measures to take under Chapter VII.
IF the Syrians do not comply THEN the UNSC will meet to decide on what measures to take possibly including measures under Chapter VII.
So, as they say in the USA, there is good news and there is bad news.
The good news is that at this moment in time there is no Chapter VII UNSC against Syria. Hence the headlines about the US dropping the military threat. To get to a legal use of military threat, the US and Russia would have to agree that Syria is not complying, and then they would then have to take the issue to the UNSC which would have to vote on it.
The bad news is that the US can easily say something like that: “Syria is in non-compliance, but the Russians are denying that even though the agreement signed by them clearly says that non-compliance would be enforced by Chapter VII -type measures. If the Russians are now reneging on their obligations, we, as the leader and protector of the free world and civilized mankind, shall proudly shoulder our obligations to the international community and the Syrian people”. Yes, that would be a mis-representation, but for a country willing to bypass the UN completely and whose diplomats and politicians lie every time their lips move this is really a no-brainer.
I therefore see this agreement as a Russian diplomatic failure.
Because any mention of Chapter VII in the Syrian context is totally unacceptable to me, as is any ambiguity. We already know how the US distorted the meaning of the UNSC Resolution on Syria to justify regime change. Regardless of what the agreement actually says, the simple fact that somewhere on that page there is the word “Chapter VII” is enough for Uncle Shmuel to justify the unjustifiable.
So why did the Russians agree? Have they suddenly become stupid?
My guess is that they bet on a combination of two factors:
a) they hope that the situation on the ground will change enough to make a US attack either impossible or meaningless, or both.
b) they hope that the forces inside the US “deep state” which were so opposed to a US attack on Syria (basically, the non Zionist Anglos) will put enough pressure on Obama to have him very grateful that there is now a way out of the corner into which he painted himself with his “red line”.
Finally, there is a real possibility that the amount of evidence which show that Sarin gas was used by the insurgents will become big enough to have the international community basically agree – however reluctantly – that Assad did not do it.
Needless to say, Assad better comply or the Russians will get really mad at him. My guess is that he will comply. Gladly.
Still, I personally see this latest agreement as a Russian diplomatic failure and I hope that it will not have any serious consequences. Overall, Putin’s “Russian Gambit” is something like a 80% success, but without this mention of “Chapter VII” it could have been a 100% success.
The Kremlin is walking a very dangerous path here and following this latest failure, it cannot afford any further mistakes.