Getting by with a little help from my friends

Ridding Syria of its chemical weapons (CW) is a costly undertaking. It is projected to cost many tens of millions of Euros. To this end both the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have set up trust funds in support of the Syrian CW disarmament project. The OPCW has already managed to collect close to €60 million. International financial and in-kind support were required as Syria had notified the organisation upon its accession to the CWC that it was not in a position to pay for the CW destruction operations. Despite the international community’s assumption of responsibility for the disarmament project via the decisions taken by the OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council on 27 September, analysis of the list of donors reveals that neither Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) members (barring a single exception) nor Arab League states have come to the assistance of its fellow member state. Yet both bodies do repeatedly declare their full commitment to General and Complete Disarmament or a region free of non-conventional weapons for the Middle East.

Sponsoring CW Disarmament

In line with Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) the money in the UN trust fund pays for the purchase and transport of  non-military logistical equipment, water transportation, power generators, port shipping fees, drivers, food, fuel expenses, and other related services. According to a fact sheet released by the Joint Mission earlier this month, $7.014 million (€5.1 million) has been received from Denmark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Russia and the United States. Japan has pledged an additional $9 million (€6.55 million).

The OPCW operates two trust funds, one to cover operations in Syria and one to pay for the destruction of Syria’s CW. The fact sheet reports that they total €8.66 million ($9.049 million) and €42.4 million ($58.5 million) respectively in actual contributions and pledges. Last Tuesday the OPCW announced that Japan has donated €13.25 million ($18,2 million)—almost doubling the €7.1 million ($9.7 million) the country had initially pledged to both OPCW trust funds—to support operations related to the destruction of Syria’s CW programme. The grand total of funds available to the OPCW now stands at around €57.3 million ($78.74 million). As important are the in-kind contributions offered by several states and the European Union to both the UN and the OPCW. These include a variety of services and logistical support or the making available of special equipment.

The combined totals of funds entrusted to the OPCW represent the equivalent of over two-thirds of the organisation’s annual regular budget, a clear indicator of the magnitude of the undertaking. Adding the in-kind donations, the total value of contributions may actually exceed the OPCW’s annual regular budget. In addition, the OPCW is to recoup the verification costs from Syria. To this end the Council of the European Union decided to unfreeze funds from the assets blocked under EU sanctions against the Assad regime.

Those figures undeniably testify to the sizeable international support for eliminating Syria’s chemical warfare capacity. Closer examination, however, shows that the burden is carried mainly by the Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, and Turkey. Russia, Byelorussia, China and three other Asian states—India, Japan and South Korea—make up the remainder. In other words, not a single country from Africa and Central and South America, and a majority of CWC parties from the Asia–Pacific region do not contribute in any way to the project. Even tiny Andorra has managed to transfer €15,000.

The friend of my friend is my . . . frenemy?

Of the 120 members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which always calls for general and complete disarmament, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, and international cooperation and development, only India has pledged €736,000 in support of the destruction of CW from fellow NAM member Syria. Iran, a close ally of the Syrian government, currently chairs the group.

Even more striking is the total lack of any form of contribution from the Middle East. (Turkey belongs to the Western Europe and Other States Group of parties to the CWC.) Iran, for instance, actively promotes chemical disarmament. Each year during the Conference of the States Parties it organises an event commemorating the chemical warfare victims of the 1980–88 war with Iraq. Since November 2012 a memorial sponsored by Iran adorns the garden of the OPCW headquarter building. The statue represents a victim gradually losing his/her life from the effects of chemical weapons whose body is simultaneously converted into peace doves. Without concrete action today to safeguard the Syrian people from the consequences of the chemical attacks (irrespective of who might be the perpetrator), Ypres, Sardasht and Halabja are reduced to mere incidents in the history of warfare and denied meaningful commemoration. Being close, Iran may want to press the Syrian government to speed up the removal of the precursor chemicals and intervene to offer its expert medical assistance in the field. Chairing the NAM, it may wish to press members to actively contribute to the international CW removal effort in Syria. For a government trying to reconnect with all constituencies of the global community, active and demonstrable participation might send many positive signals about its political commitment to disarmament in all its national and international dimensions.

None of Syria’s Arab League partners (all of whom except Egypt are parties to the CWC) have even made a token contribution. Some members may have deep-rooted issues with President Bashar al-Assad, but the money does not actually go to him. It contributes to eliminating the possibility that civilians do not have to face another Ghouta amid all the ongoing carnage. Yet, the regional organisation will undoubtedly profess its absolute commitment to a Middle East free from non-conventional weapons at the Preparatory Committee of the NPT Review Conference starting in New York next April. Particularly, it will express its profound frustration with the fact that no meeting to rid the region from biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and missiles has yet been convened as requested by the final document of the 2010 Review Conference. And for sure it will blame precisely those countries that contribute the most to the elimination of Syria’s CW.

Will somebody point out that by supporting the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, Middle Eastern states may actually change the security calculations in their region (including those by Israel), and that therefore they, rather than outsiders, could contribute greatly to their desired goal of regional disarmament?

[Cross-posted from The Trench blog]

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3 Comments on “Getting by with a little help from my friends”

  1. Peyman says:

    This post is extremely well researched and articulated… I try to translate this (to Farsi) and post it onto the online platforms I may have access to.
    Thank you very much.

  2. masoud says:

    The NAM’s lack of interest in donating to this cause is entirely understandable.

    The people of Syria being killed en masse by exactly the same type of takfirist terrorist groups that were so reviled by so many for flying planes into the twin towers. Every second and every dollar spent right now on the enterprise of removing Syria’s chemical weapon’s capabilities is a squandered resourse. That time and money would be much better spent on sending food aid and humanitarian goods to Syria and and Syrian refugee camps in surrounding countries.

    We now know that all the ‘slam-dunk’ intelligence and ‘forensic’ reports implicating the government of Syria in the chemical weapon’s attacks in August were fraudulent and the perpatrators of those attacks were the same groups that had carried out the previous chemical weapons attacks-the western and saudi sponsored terrorists groups. The OPCW is ill-equiped to deal with this type of threat, and the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons capabilities is nothing but an empty feel-good measure.

    While it is nice that Syria will no longer have chemical weapons, this development is an overall setback for the goal of a mid east free of chemical weapons. Syria’s chemical weapons capability was the only regional ‘check’ against Israeli and US chemical weapons capabilities, and on the whole reduced the likelihood that chemical weapons would be deployed by state actors in a regional conflagaration. Both the US and Israel not only have dedicated chemical warfare units, but have begun breaking the taboo against the use of chemcial weapons through the recent use of white phosphorous, though both have signifcant stockpiles of even scarier chemcial arms at hand.

  3. masoud says:

    Here’s a perfect illustration of the abject, let’s call it lack of judgement, behind the demand that Syria must pick this particular time in history to ship out all it’s chemical weapon’s capabilities.
    “Syria says two attempted attacks on chemical weapons convoys: U.N.”
    http://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCABREA1Q2D920140228

    And while we’re at it, let’s note, for the benefit of those who actually believe that rule of law in international affairs is a good thing, that compliance with these demand was only achieved through the unquestionably illegal threat of aggression. It’s no wonder that NAM wants to steer clear of everything associated with this fiasco.

    If those arms did fall into the hands of local(and not so local) terrorist groups, it wouldn’t be the citizens of “precisely those countries that contribute the most to the elimination of Syria’s CW” that would suffer the consequences.


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