The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) won the Nobel prize for peace on the 11th October 2013 “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”. The Nobel prize committee argued “Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons.” Yet this was only just over a week after the OPCW started in its efforts to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons, a mission that will almost certainly prove to be the organisation’s biggest test. And only a couple of months after the first confirmed chemical weapons attack since the chemical weapons convention came into effect in 1997.
The weapons inspectors are only in Syria as a result of a last minute deal between the great powers of Russia and the United States as a way to avoid a bombing campaign by the Americans and French. The United States attempts to create a coalition to bomb Syria were already stumbling when Secretary of State John Kerry in a news conference in London responded to how war could be averted with "[Assad] could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week …. But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done." The Russians took this as an opening to suggest putting Syria's chemical weapons under international control which the Syrian government quickly accepted with foreign minister Walid al-Moallem saying "Syria welcomes the Russian proposal out of concern for the lives of the Syrian people, the security of our country and because it believes in the wisdom of the Russian leadership that seeks to avert American aggression against our people."
The result was a framework agreed between Russia and the United States on the 14th September whereby Syria would agree to the destruction of all chemical agents and related equipment with the monitoring of the OPCW. A rough timeline was also decided “A. Completion of initial OPCW on-site inspections by November. B. Destruction of production and mixing/filling equipment by November. C. Complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment in the first half of 2014.”
On the same day Syria joined the Chemical Weapons convention, provisionally applying it until its entry into force on the 14th October 2013 which allowed the weapons inspectors to begin their work of first compiling and then destroying Syria's stockpile of WMD.
There was an initial deadline for the handover by 6th February. This was however not met resulting in negotiations on a new date and a new deadline of the 13th April, a deadline that may well be missed but probably not by much. However even if the deadlines are met there will remain questions about whether the inspectors have been beneficial as the war has raged around them. And whether Assad has really given up all of his Weapons of Mass Destruction.
 The Norwegian Nobel Committee, ‘The Nobel Peace Prize for 2013’, nobelprize.org, 11 October 2013, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2013/press.html
 Spetalnick, Matt, and Mohammed, Arshad, 'Analysis: How Kerry's off-hand remark put a deal on Syria in play', Reuters, 9 September 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/10/us-syria-crisis-analysis-idUSBRE98902D20130910
 Isachenkov, Vladimir, 'Russia To Push Syria To Put Chemical Weapons Under International Control', 9 September 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/09/russia-syria-chemical-weapons-international-control_n_3893951.html
 U.S. & Russia, 'Joint Framework on Destruction of Syrian CW', U.S. Department of State, 14 September 2013, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/09/214247.htm
 United Nations, ‘Syrian Arab Republic’, treaties.un.org, 14 September 2013, http://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/CN/2013/CN.592.2013-Eng.pdf
 ‘Watchdog: Half of Syria’s chemicals removed’, AlJazeera, 27 March 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/03/watchdog-half-syria-chemicals-removed-2014327235384570.html
The biggest difficulty with the weapons inspectors being in Syria is that they are a sideshow to the real problem. Yes chemical weapons use is horrific but their use in Syria has caused far fewer casualties than conventional weapons. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the total death toll at 115,000 at the end of September 2013 by comparison the chemical weapons attack that triggered the threat of intervention and therefore the inspections caused somewhere between 136 and 1300 deaths. Syria’s having joined the chemical weapons convention and allowed in inspectors may prevent more deaths as a result of chemical weapons but it has not stopped the conflict. Many thousands more will die as a result of the conflict while the international community looks on patting itself on the back that it has somehow managed to find a solution.
 Stampler, Laura, ‘Group Says Syria Death Toll at 115,000’, Time, 1 October 2013, http://world.time.com/2013/10/01/group-says-syria-death-toll-at-115000/
 Mroue, Bassem, ‘The United Nations is seeking clarity over the alleged chemical attack in Syria’, USA Today, 22 August 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/22/syria-attack/2683855/
There is a limit to what can be done in internal conflicts such as the Syrian civil war. There is a chemical weapons convention that almost every nation has signed so there is an international norm against their use and agreement on their disarmament. This is not the case with conventional internal conflict. The Syrian regime will agree to disarm its chemical weapons to prevent bombing by NATO but removing conventional weapons or ending the conflict would be completely different; a much bigger operation which the Syrian regime could not agree too as it would mean signing their death warrant.
Chemical weapons are a horrifying weapon of mass destruction but they are by no means the only such horrific weapons. James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence says “We judge that some elements of Syria’s biological warfare programme might have advanced beyond the research and development stage and might be capable of limited agent production, based on the duration of its longstanding programme”. Biological weapons could potentially be even more devastating than chemical weapons as they don’t necessarily affect just a localised area then disperse. As with other viruses they can be passed from person to person. In a country like Syria where the health services have broken down, and basically don’t exist in opposition areas the result could be huge numbers of deaths. It is inconsistent to disarm one type of weapon while leaving another type of WMD available to the Syrian regime.
 AFP, ‘Syria ‘may be able to produce biological weapons’’, The Telegraph, 29 January 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10605512/Syria-may-be-able-to-produce-biological-weapons.html
Biological weapons are indiscriminate. This is why they are so horrific, but also why they are not a concern in this instance. Any use of biological weapons in Syria would likely affect not only rebels but also government supporters. The Syrian government can’t afford to use such a weapon if it wants to ever have a chance of regaining control of the country.
Weapons inspectors are unlikely to actually be able to totally disarm Syria. The OPCW has been given a target of dismantling Syria’s arsenal by the middle of 2014 but has admitted that it is a tight deadline that will require temporary ceasefires if the target is to be reached. This is because “For any particular move that the team has to undertake, the security situation is assessed. Unless we get the clearance from our UN colleagues, we don't move.” Clearly if the weapons inspectors won’t go where there is a high risk to themselves they are unlikely to get the job done. Already inspectors have encountered situations where they can’t gain access to sites due to safety concerns. Moreover in a conflict situation it will be extremely difficult to verify that all of Syria’s chemical weapons have been dismantled. There are two potential problems – will the Syrian government really be honest about the size of its stockpiles or will it quietly keep some back, and will the inspectors be able to gain access to all areas both government and rebel held? So long as there is conflict there will clearly be a chaotic situation in which weapons could be buried, or hidden, or simply never found.
 Ensor, Josie, ‘Chemical watchdog chief calls for Syria ceasefire’, The Telegraph, 9 October 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10367242/Chemical-watchdog-chief-calls-for-Syria-ceasefire.html
 BBC News, ‘Syria chemical weapons inspectors hail progress’, 17 October 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24566722
That progress is difficult and slow is not a good reason to leave the country entirely and instead make no progress.
Syria is falling well behind on handing over its weapons. The deadliest chemicals were supposed to be removed by 1st January and the rest by 6th February. Neither happened. The Syrian government blamed the lack of protective equipment as well as the security situation but the OPCW says it has handed over the necessary equipment. Under a new timetable Syria has pledged to remove all chemical weapons by 13th April, but by the end of March had only removed just over half. If Syria continues to fail to meet deadlines there have to be consequences, including abandoning the mission.
 Blanford, Nicholas, ‘Months of stalling preceded Syria’s latest chemical weapons handover’, CS Monitor, 4 March 2014, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/2014/0304/Months-of-stalling-preceded-Syria-s-latest-chemical-weapons-handover
Withdrawing the inspectors is hardly going to make Syria live up to its commitments. Instead more pressure is needed on Syria when it does drag its feet.
Before the deal on allowing in weapons inspectors the course was set for an international conflict in Syria; the United States and allies, such as France, would have bombed Syria. The only way to prevent such a conflict becoming a reality is to keep weapons inspectors on the ground. Syria crossed President Obama’s ‘red line’ when chemical weapons were used and despite initial reluctance on the part of the Obama administration this was always likely to lead to some form of military response. Syria's Foreign Minister when accepting the Russian suggestion to disarm its chemical weapons suggested this was why it accepted as Walid al-Moallem said they accepted to "thwart U.S. aggression". If the weapons inspectors leave the United States is once more left with the question of how to get rid of the chemical weapons, the weapons inspections are the only non-military option.
 AP, 'Syria Accepts Russian Proposal To Surrender Chemical Weapons, Foreign Minister says', Huffington Post, 10 September 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/10/syria-accepts-proposal-to-surrender-chemical-weapons_n_3898941.html
Conflict would not break out if the inspectors left; that point has passed. Now if the inspectors left it is likely that nothing would happen. Clearly the better option is for there to be significant pressure on Syria and Assad to bring about peace in the country – through sanctions, help for the rebels, even limited military action. This can then allow much more comprehensive weapons that don’t provide a chance for the Syrian regime to hide some amidst the chaos.
Unless you are a warmonger, or you have a particular hatred of the United Nations, then there is no reason to throw the weapons inspectors out. They do no harm in their mission in Syria and have the potential to do a lot of good by destroying one of the world’s biggest stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. 189 countries representing 98% of the world’s population have signed up to the chemical weapons convention, which means getting rid of these horrifying weapons. Clearly the world is in agreement that they must go and this is what the inspectors are endeavouring to do. Getting rid of the inspectors simply halts this vital work to no end.
Taking the weapons inspectors out of Syria need not be permanent, simply until there is peace and hopefully a new regime.
There were three main actors in the deal that allowed the chemical weapons inspectors into Syria; The United States, Russia, and the Syrian government, none of whom have any reason to want to see the inspectors leave. Russia took the initiative to create the deal having leapt upon Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks and so has a lot of international prestige tied up in making the deal work, it also shows that Russia can be constructive as well as simply a spoiler in the international arena.
If the deal collapsed then the United States would almost certainly be back to where it was when there was agreement on sending the weapons inspectors in; days or weeks away from military action. Such military action would be costly and unlikely to work; attacking chemical weapons from the air would be difficult and would risk chemical releases.
Because of the risk of attack it would clearly be in Syria’s interest to stick with the current situation. So far it has given no indication that it will hinder the weapons inspectors in any way. This has been confirmed by Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the Joint OPCW-UN Mission, who in late October stated “To date, the Government of Syria has fully cooperated in supporting the work of the advance team and the OPCW-UN Joint Mission.”
 Hambling, David, ‘How the US may try to destroy Syria's chemical weapons’, New Scientist, 3 September 2013, http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24142-how-the-us-may-try-to-destroy-syrias-chemical-weapons.html#.Umadffmkr_D
 Kaag, Sigrid, ‘Statement of Sigrid Kaag, Special Coordinator of the Joint OPCW-UN Mission’, un.org, 22 October 2013, http://www.un.org/sg/offthecuff/index.asp?nid=3144
The chemical weapons inspections take the pressure off Syria. When there was a threat of intervention by an outside power there was a reason for the Syrian government to negotiate with the rebels to find a peaceful solution. It is clear that it was coercion that got the weapons inspectors in as the White House said “It was the credible threat of U.S. military action that led to the opening of this diplomatic avenue.” But it halts future coercion. With weapons inspectors in the country the possibility of using coercion is non-existent; no country is going to consider an attack while they are there and the Syrian regime knows this. The inspections may be considered a diplomatic victory for Russia and the USA but it has come at the expense of the bigger prize of peace. For which there is now almost no prospect.
 Zenko, Micah, ‘Would the Syria Deal Be a Coercive Diplomacy Success?’, CFR, 12 September 2013, http://blogs.cfr.org/zenko/2013/09/12/would-the-syria-deal-be-a-coercive-diplomacy-success/
Sometimes peace comes from one big agreement. But most of the time there are lots of small steps on the path to peace. This involves finding areas where deals can be made to help build trust that the negotiating regimes will carry out their promises. A cease fire is worthless if neither side believes the other will stick to it as it becomes a race to break it first. But the progress of weapons inspectors shows Syria can be trusted to fulfil its commitments. Peace talks have followed the agreement on chemical weapons. There have been conferences at Montreaux/Geneva, they have not brought breakthroughs, but neither have they broken down so progress on other issues such as prisoner exchanges, humanitarian access, or safe passage deals, are likely at some point.
 Williams, Michael C., ‘Negotiating a path to peace: from Geneva to Aleppo, via Moscow’, New Statesman, 13 February 2014, http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/02/negotiating-syrian-peace-moscow-geneva
The deal that allowed weapons inspectors into Syria may have made peace further away not closer. By allowing Assad’s government to sign up to an international treaty while its legitimacy was contested by other groups showed that other governments accept only Assad as the legitimate government of Syria. This undid two years of attempts to delegitimise Assad; more than 30 countries had recognised Syria’s opposition as the country’s ‘legitimate representative’.
 Freedman, Joshua Meir, ‘Don’t let Assad sign the Chemical Weapons Convention on Syria’s behalf’, AlJazeera, 29 September 2013, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/09/don-let-assad-sign-chemical-weapons-convention-syria-behalf-201392981058347857.html
AFP, ‘Syria ‘may be able to produce biological weapons’’, The Telegraph, 29 January 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10605512/Syria-may-be-able-to-produce-biological-weapons.html
‘Watchdog: Half of Syria’s chemicals removed’, AlJazeera, 27 March 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/03/watchdog-half-syria-chemicals-removed-2014327235384570.html
AP, 'Syria Accepts Russian Proposal To Surrender Chemical Weapons, Foreign Minister says', Huffington Post, 10 September 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/10/syria-accepts-proposal-to-surrender-chemical-weapons_n_3898941.html
BBC News, ‘Syria chemical weapons inspectors hail progress’, 17 October 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24566722
Blanford, Nicholas, ‘Months of stalling preceded Syria’s latest chemical weapons handover’, CS Monitor, 4 March 2014, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/2014/0304/Months-of-stalling-preceded-Syria-s-latest-chemical-weapons-handover
Ensor, Josie, ‘Chemical watchdog chief calls for Syria ceasefire’, The Telegraph, 9 October 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10367242/Chemical-watchdog-chief-calls-for-Syria-ceasefire.html
Freedman, Joshua Meir, ‘Don’t let Assad sign the Chemical Weapons Convention on Syria’s behalf’, AlJazeera, 29 September 2013, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/09/don-let-assad-sign-chemical-weapons-convention-syria-behalf-201392981058347857.html
Hambling, David, ‘How the US may try to destroy Syria's chemical weapons’, New Scientist, 3 September 2013, http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24142-how-the-us-may-try-to-destroy-syrias-chemical-weapons.html#.Umadffmkr_D
Isachenkov, Vladimir, 'Russia To Push Syria To Put Chemical Weapons Under International Control', 9 September 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/09/russia-syria-chemical-weapons-international-control_n_3893951.html
Kaag, Sigrid, ‘Statement of Sigrid Kaag, Special Coordinator of the Joint OPCW-UN Mission’, un.org, 22 October 2013, http://www.un.org/sg/offthecuff/index.asp?nid=3144
Mroue, Bassem, ‘The United Nations is seeking clarity over the alleged chemical attack in Syria’, USA Today, 22 August 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/22/syria-attack/2683855/
Norwegian Nobel Committee, ‘The Nobel Peace Prize for 2013’, nobelprize.org, 11 October 2013, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2013/press.html
Spetalnick, Matt, and Mohammed, Arshad, 'Analysis: How Kerry's off-hand remark put a deal on Syria in play', Reuters, 9 September 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/10/us-syria-crisis-analysis-idUSBRE98902D20130910
Stampler, Laura, ‘Group Says Syria Death Toll at 115,000’, Time, 1 October 2013, http://world.time.com/2013/10/01/group-says-syria-death-toll-at-115000/
United Nations, ‘Syrian Arab Republic’, treaties.un.org, 14 September 2013, http://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/CN/2013/CN.592.2013-Eng.pdf
United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, ‘Chemical Weapons’, un.org, https://www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Chemical/
U.S. & Russia, 'Joint Framework on Destruction of Syrian CW', U.S. Department of State, 14 September 2013, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/09/214247.htm
Williams, Michael C., ‘Negotiating a path to peace: from Geneva to Aleppo, via Moscow’, New Statesman, 13 February 2014, http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/02/negotiating-syrian-peace-moscow-geneva
Zenko, Micah, ‘Would the Syria Deal Be a Coercive Diplomacy Success?’, CFR, 12 September 2013, http://blogs.cfr.org/zenko/2013/09/12/would-the-syria-deal-be-a-coercive-diplomacy-success/