Axis of the Chemical Weapons Convention

With the backing of his Russian patron and arms supplier, New York Times columnist Vladimir Putin, Syria's President Assad has agreed to sign on to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the treaty that President Obama has described as representing the will of 98% of the people on the planet to rid us all of the scourge of chemical weapons. Could this resolve the dangers of chemical weapons in Syria?

It seemed worth taking a closer look at the chemical weapons treaty, as well at the Hague-based outfit that implements it, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Having done some spelunking, I can report that whatever the views of 98% of humanity, there are some highly significant holdouts, including the governments of Iran and Russia -- both of which acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention from the beginning, back in 1997. They offer a template that Syria's Assad probably finds interesting: Sign, and cheat.

But surely the convention and its implementing body, the OPCW, would stop its States Parties from violating the treaty they agreed to? Think again. The OPCW is not part of the UN, but it is closely linked to the UN, and replicates many of the UN's failings, including the tendency to promise grand things it is simply not configured to deliver. Back in 1997, when the U.S. Senate was debating whether to ratify the chemical weapons treaty, Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served as President Reagan's ambassador to the UN, testified that it was "neither verifiable nor enforceable." Looks like she had it right.

More on this in my article on "Syria's Pals at the Chemical Weapons Convention." And some highlights, summarized below:

-- The U.S. State Department, as recently as this year, reported to Congress that Russia itself -- now the proposed guarantor for Syria -- is cheating on the Chemical Weapons Convention, with undeclared stockpiles.

-- The OPCW has become a playground for Iran. Iran holds a seat on its executive council, and on all three main subsidiary bodies, including its budget advisory committee (which advises on a $99 million annual budget, to which the U.S. contributes 22%, or more than $20 million per year), as well as its scientific advisory group and confidentiality commission.

-- It has been OPCW policy to hire Iranians onto its staff from the beginning, and in 2009 (according to a wikileaked secret U.S. cable), the French alerted the U.S. to an OPCW chemical weapons inspector -- an Iranian who had previously worked for Melli Agrochemical, "a known proliferator," with a record of buying nerve agents precursors for Iran's defense ministry. The OPCW will not disclose whether this person is still on staff, or how many Iranians are currently working there, or in what jobs -- merely that they are there, and under OPCW policy have every right to be there. As a member, Syria, like all other members, would enjoy the same privileges.

Tucked between Russia and Iran on this treaty, Assad should feel right at home.