Published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Online on June 12, 2014.
Article summary below; read the full text here.
Last summer, as a Moscow-brokered deal to disarm Syria of chemical weapons took shape, a headline in Foreign Policy blared, “There’s Almost No Chance Russia’s Plan for Syria’s Chemical Weapons Will Work.” The accompanying story was typical of many at the time suggesting that the emerging plan was a fool’s errand, that it distracted attention from the deadly battles Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was waging with conventional weapons, and that US participation signaled weakness and lack of resolve in Washington.
In the wake of the Syrian government’s large-scale use of the nerve agent sarin against unprotected civilians last August, the United States and Russia concluded a last-ditch diplomatic agreement forcing Damascus to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and verifiably eliminate or remove all chemical weapons material and equipment by June 30. With that deadline approaching, now is a good time to judge the deal’s effectiveness. Is the doom and gloom that characterized (and continues to characterize) much of the commentary on the agreement still warranted? The answer is “no”—with disclaimers. It’s true that Syria has yet to ship out all of its chemicals, that questions remain about whether Damascus is hiding additional prohibited materials, and that the civil war continues to rage with no end in sight. And yet: Progress in implementing the deal has been extraordinary given the circumstances, and the unprecedented international effort has more effectively reduced the threat from Syria’s chemical weapons than the alternative Washington considered—punitive cruise missile strikes.