Syria - The impossible is possible

We need a qualitatively different approach to the very principles of the NPT, to give it a new legitimacy, to start a controlled and coordinated revision. Source: Reuters

We need a qualitatively different approach to the very principles of the NPT, to give it a new legitimacy, to start a controlled and coordinated revision. Source: Reuters

Syrian chemical weapons forced Russia and the US to roll up their sleeves and actually start working together, which earlier was thought to be impossible. The two countries need to work together for a revised and more relevant version of the NPT.

The Russian initiative to address the issue of chemical weapons in Syria has cleared the first hurdle – the UN Security Council has agreed on a resolution for the first time during this conflict. Its text is an example of diplomacy at work, where each player made concessions and yet claims it defended its positions.

Moscow has agreed to include a reference to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter (which describes the mechanism for applying force against a country not respecting its obligations) into the document, to which it strongly objected up to now. Russia was afraid that even the very mention of that provision would, if anything went wrong with the implementation, confirm: that the right to strike was recorded in the adopted document. Washington and its allies, in their turn, have acknowledged that automatic sanctions do not follow from the agreed upon resolution, and a new document will be required to take any intervention measures. In addition, everyone has agreed that the issue relating to people responsible for the chemical attack on August 21 is irrelevant now.

This new success still does not guarantee anything, hidden dangers in the wake of this plan have not lost their relevance – these range from military engineering and technical, to geopolitical and psychological ones. However, the leading actors have demonstrated their ability to find mutually acceptable solutions, and this is encouraging.

With all the drama about what is happening in Syria, the significance of the Russian idea is broader than this specific scene. Contemporary world politics has come to a standstill. Ironically, despite the interdependence of all involved, the common agenda keeps being torn to pieces. In search for answers to global challenges, the states, despite their claims, are seeking common approaches less and less, but are rather guided more by their understanding of what is needed for their own sustainability. If it is compatible with the interests of others – that is great, and if not – self-interest comes first, and their understanding of the situation is assumed as more correct. They practically could not resolve issues, which could not be solved on impulse or by a straightforward combination, but required painstaking multilateral work.

The Russian plan is important not only due to the fact that it returns states to normal and highly professional diplomacy, but also because it contains a request to fill the empty agenda. Singling out the issue of chemical weapons, out of the context of the Syrian civil war, a tragic, yet local, episode provides an opportunity for referring to one of the biggest international security problems – the fate of the regime for controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And above all, it concerns the most important of such weapons – nuclear weapons.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has been in force since 1968, is in a crisis. This is not about specific countries seeking to acquire them, e.g., North Korea or Iran, or not being part of the NPT (like Israel or India and Pakistan). The issue is one of principle – on what basis have the five great powers usurped the right to have nuclear arsenals, while considering the similar desire of other countries as illegal? Forty-five years ago, it was possible to accept a discriminatory decision and to enforce it – first of all by the forces of the two superpowers. However now, the world is experiencing an unprecedented political awakening, and the demands for democratization of the international arrangement, refusal from the monopoly of the “elite”, that is, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, is sounding increasingly louder from everywhere. No moral argument to insist on the preservation of the unequal state of affairs can be brought forward, while resources to maintain it, by using military and political or security measures are running out. This is partly because the countries, that it depends on, have long ceased to be creative in solving dilemmas, relying only on their own superiority.

One can try to unravel the knots one at a time, dealing with individual countries, as it is happening now – the nuclear program in Iran, North Korea, and earlier in Iraq (which was never found) and in Libya... However, there is nothing to boast about. They managed to stop only Tripoli, and then the subsequent fate of Gaddafi has shown that nuclear deterrence, in any case, must not be abandoned – it is akin to suicide.

We need a qualitatively different approach to the very principles of the NPT, to give it a new legitimacy, to start a controlled and coordinated revision. This initiative can be taken only by those countries that are the leaders, in terms of arsenals – Russia and the United States. In principle, equality may be of two kinds. Either no one can – that is, by the way, the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Or everyone can – under certain conditions. The first option cannot be applied to nuclear weapons, abandoning them is not realistic, and it is unlikely to contribute to peace on the background of a giant imbalance in conventional weapons between major countries (or more precisely – the U.S.A. and the rest). We have the second option left. Now all have to think – diplomats, the military, scientists and engineers. Syrian chemical weapons forced Moscow and Washington to roll up their sleeves and actually start working together, which earlier was thought to be impossible. If this is successful – an impetus will be given to making a bold push for other impossible things.

First published in Russian in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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