By Ian Davis, NATO Watch
It is not often that we get to blow our own trumpet. But breaking news reported in the Journal of Turkish Weekly suggests that NATO and Russia have agreed to cooperate to facilitate Syria chemical disarmament. This is exactly what NATO Watch Director Ian Davis and Andreas Persbo Executive Director of VERTIC called for in an opinion piece published on 13 September. As far we can ascertain, no one else was calling for such a strategic alignment and our efforts to place the op ed in both The Guardian and New York Times fell on deaf ears. However, a senior NATO official did read it and responded favourably in a private email on 17 September.
And now it is being reported that Russia and NATO have agreed to fund and provide technical assistance to the chemical weapon disarmament process in Syria being conducted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Emerging from an Ambassador-level session of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels on Friday, Russian Ambassador Alexander Grushko said “the sides have agreed to pull off the task in strict keeping with Resolution 2118 of the UN Security Council and the subsequent resolution of the OPCW”. They had also agreed that the Syrian crisis can only be settled politically, through an all-embracing second Geneva conference on Syria, which should bring the Syrian government together with all rebel groups.
Disarmament personnel are expected to begin travelling to chemical-weapon facilities to disable equipment next week, according to an OPCW press release. The exact timing largely depends on developments within three OPCW subgroups charged with confirming chemical-arms declarations by Damascus, protecting auditors in the field and making ‘practical arrangements’ to inventory and dismantle the Syrian government's full chemical-warfare stockpile by the middle of next year. It is not yet clear what specific role the NATO-Russian cooperation will play in this process. The OPCW group faces an initial Nov. 1 deadline to eliminate the Assad regime's chemical-weapon production capacity.
As we said in our earlier op ed, this cooperation could be a potential game changer. Not only does this agreement offer a tentative route map out of the mess in Syria but also a broader strategic, normative and political rapprochement between NATO and Russia, as well as a re-invigorated United Nations. We await further details of the NATO-Russia agreement with interest.