Halting a chemical weapons nightmare in Syria

Bab Amro, Homs (Photo: Freedom House)

‘The first step is to accept that nothing is clear in Syria’ says IISS Research Associate Dina Esfandiary in a new piece for the  The Diplomat on the possibility that the regime might be preparing chemical weapons for use against rebel forces.  

‘Given the latest developments in Syria, fear that Assad will resort to these weapons is not unreasonable. Pressure must be mounting for Syria’s ruler, as the rebels advance and his army proves increasingly unable to push them back. Logic dictates that if Assad truly fears for his survival, then the use of his most potent weapon may not be so far-fetched.’

However, she cautions: ‘We should measure our alarm. A reckless assumption that Assad will use chemical weapons could get us in all sorts of trouble – remember what happened in Iraq?’

There are only two ways the world can respond right now she concludes: preparation in case of the worst and ‘establishing unequivocal clear red lines’ to deter any use of chemical weapons.

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Rising concern over Syria’s chemical weapons

Visit to NATO by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at NATO

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Anticipating that Iran nuclear questions would feature prominently at the IISS Manama Dialogue, I set to work yesterday updating my briefing papers on the status and options. No sooner had I begun, however, than the phone began ringing, with calls from journalists asking about different kinds of weapons in two other countries in the region. Could we trust reports that Syria was mixing chemical-weapons components, and what were the implications of NATO deploying Patriot missiles to Turkey? Similar questions are likely to come up at the Manama Dialogue.

It is clear to me that there is good reason to worry on the first point, even if there is no guarantee that Syria really is readying sarin nerve-gas weapons by mixing the two main chemical precursors. The media reports of this are all sourced to unnamed US officials, and many simply echo articles on Wired’s Danger Room and CNN from 3 December.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stressed that the reports had not been confirmed. There are ample signs, however. The forceful, pointed warnings from President Barack Obama and other Western leaders reflect the alarming nature of the intelligence information being collected last week.

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Syria-Turkey shelling raises tensions

Turkey's military capablities along Syria's border

Turkey’s military capablities along Syria’s border

By James Hackett, Editor, The Military Balance

Syria’s crisis, which has long been a security concern for Turkey, has spilled over into Turkish territory again – this time with more serious consequences. The Turkish government has now signalled that it would send troops to Syria if necessary – but how likely is it that Turkey will get involved in actual combat, and what kind of military action can we expect?

Artillery fire originating from Syrian territory on Wednesday 3 October killed five people and injured many others in the Turkish border town of Akcakale. Turkish artillery responded on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning there were reports of continued firing at targets in Syria.

Turkey’s parliament voted by 320 to 129 on 4 October to give the government authority for the foreign deployment of troops.  This authority, effective for one year, was granted under the provisions of Article 92 of the Turkish Constitution and would allow the dispatch of Turkish troops into Syrian territory. Late on 3 October, Turkey requested a meeting of NATO’s North Atlantic Council within the framework of Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty. The Alliance said that it continued ‘to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an Ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law’.

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Friends of Syria still hesitant

Turkish PM Erdogan speaks at Friends of Syria meeting, Istanbul. Photo: Turkish Foreign Ministry

By Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Regional Security, IISS-Middle East

Representatives of more than 80 countries gathered in Istanbul this weekend to demonstrate their support for the Syrian opposition. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (above), a former ally of Bashar al-Assad turned vehement critic, delivered a thunderous speech warning Assad to step down; Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states announced they would set up a fund to pay the salaries of the Free Syrian Army, the loose network of rebels; US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled new measures including humanitarian assistance, non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels and the establishment of a Syria Accountability Clearinghouse to document human-rights abuses ahead of criminal prosecution of Assad officials. Meanwhile, to bolster its international cachet, the main Syrian opposition umbrella group was offered an opportunity to address delegates and present its new platform.

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Syria and its neighbours

The Syrian regime seems to be hanging on a year after anti-government protests started as part of the Arab Awakening. But, writes Emile Hokayem in the latest issue of Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, nothing is inevitable about the Assad regime’s fate. It could survive the current unrest, although in a much weakened shape, Hokayem’s article concludes. ‘Much will depend on whether and how its neighbours intervene.’

As the Syrian government’s crackdown on its citizens has continued, thousands have fled across the border into Turkey, and Ankara’s relationship with Damascus has become strained. Philipp C. Bleek and Aaron Stein argue that the United States and Turkey now have the motivation and opportunity to cooperate in blunting the influence of Syria’s ally Iran.

In Israel, some politicians have been making noises about military action against Iran in an attempt to stop it crossing the nuclear threshold. Washington is reluctant to become involved, even indirectly, in another preventive war, and Survival‘s editor Dana Allin looks at how the United States is working to resist letting its ally’s perspective override its own balance of risk and benefit.

The focus on the Middle East continues with an examination of Jordan’s new geopolitics and Libya’s assets and the question of sovereignty. But this issue also looks at the upcoming Georgian elections, how to enlist Islam to create a more effective Afghan police force and much more.

Read more (Don’t forget Survival is also now available on iPad)


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