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Putin Pressure on Syria: What Syria’s Lack of Compliance Means for US Arms Control

Putin Pressure on Syria: What Syria’s Lack of Compliance Means for US Arms Control

By Ramin Karbasi

Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

On Tuesday, the United States called for a more assertive position against Syria in light of their non-compliance regarding the disposal of their chemical weapons. The organization in charge, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, acknowledged the need for a bolder stance by confirming Syria’s non-compliance leading up to the June 30th deadline. This recent failure adds to what the Organization has referred to as a “parade of timelines” in the destruction plan.

The agreement for Syria to renounce its stock of chemical weapons came last September following a fatal attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21st of the same year. And despite much of the United States’, the treaty’s member states’, and the Organization’s assistance since, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has failed to fully fulfill the obligations for each deadline and has even been rumored to have used chlorine-gas bombs in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

This non-compliance, however, presents a troubling precedence for the United States, especially with regard to its aim to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons. In perhaps the most appropriate use of the analogy, Syria serves as a rather ostentatious domino set to catalyze a fateful fall. Where the United States fails in Syria, it also fails elsewhere – particularly with nuclear weapon ‘hopefuls’ such as Iran and North Korea. And while President Obama’s ‘red line’ against Syria becomes gradually more blurred, so too does the United State’s global influence.

Global Zero is an arms control policy that calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons in the international community. Its principal aim is inherently harmonious in that it seeks to eliminate nuclear weapons by means of diplomacy and carefully crafted policy proposals. Its chief fault, however, lies within its idealism. A fault that increasingly delicate situations, such as those in Syria, may unceremoniously expose and augment.

The Global Zero movement itself is somewhat largely contingent upon the relative successes of the United States and the Russian diplomacy – both states possess more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. In fact, the Global Zero Action Plan, the guiding force of the movement, was established upon the premise that the United States and Russia could, through a multilateral framework, reduce their respective nuclear armaments to 500 total warheads each by the year 2021. This sharp reduction would then be followed by a series of negotiations that would ultimately culminate in the elimination of all nuclear weapons by 2030.

The Global Zero goal is fairly well recognized and respected throughout the world’s political spectrum. It, however, fails to acknowledge two deleterious downfalls.

First, in light of the developing Ukrainian crisis, United States-Russian relations are currently not in the position to achieve such a momentous and a profound goal. In many respects, President Obama has extended his Syrian ‘red line’ to President Putin’s Russia, only to witness it falter even more. This would imply that the escalating tensions between the United States and Russia could both hinder the Global Zero Action Plan and further stall the Syrian chemical weapons deadline(s).

Second, and perhaps most importantly, Russian-Syrian relations are, at the moment, quite strong. For instance, following the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, Russia vowed to support the Syrian government politically, economically, and militarily. This included, among other actions, the vetoing of UN Security Council sanctions and the continued deliverance of arms to Syria.

The correlating effects of both the escalation of United States-Russian tensions and strengthening Syrian-Russian relations are therefore important to note. The likelihood of success in Syria relies rather heavily on the ability of the United States and Russia to speak as one united voice seeking to achieve a similar goal: the fulfillment of Syria’s chemical weapons disposal obligations. And if successful, the outcome will likely be so resounding as to create a favorable precedence for Global Zero’s success.

However, the lack of United States-Russian cooperation, coupled with Russia’s continued defense of Syria’s inability to meet deadlines, concocts a rather portending foreign policy potpourri; in which President Obama, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the international community would be wise to navigate cautiously and attentively.

Ramin is currently a Senior Honors student at Southern Methodist University, where he majors in Political Science and Sociology. An avid student of comparative politics and economics, Ramin hopes to one day pursue post-graduate International Development studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. As such, and acknowledging the works of Mr. Nayef Al-Rodhan, he best describes himself as a symbiotic realist. A self-ascribed Francophile, Ramin also enjoys reading works of French existential literature in his spare time.Razi Iqbal


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