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 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?

One thought on “Getting by with a little help from my friends

  1. nushi

    Dear Jean,

    I share with you your concern that NAM & Arab League country-members, including Egypt, don’t share in the costs of CW disarmament in Syria, especially that on the other hand, Gulf countries (+ Iran on the other side) are spending a lot of money to send more arms for Sunni-Shiite religiously-fanatic fighting groups, fueling more the ongoing civil war in Syria.

    But I’d like to also share with you the other side of view, that I believe many Egyptians share here, including those who are against the dictatorships still ruling the Middle Eastern countries, concerning the establishment of a NWMD Free Zone in the ME & removing Syria’s chemical weapons:

    As a country neighboring the nuclear-armed Israel, & with the continuing hostile relations between the people of the two countries for continuing to oppress the Palestinian people, Egyptians have been much more concerned with the nuclear, biological, & chemical weapons that Israel possesses without serious safeguarding measurements applied on its arsenal by the IAEA, which is obviously contradicting with the politically-exaggerated tension & policies adopted towards the Iranian nuclear program.

    And because the US, Israel, the UN, & the IAEA has forced a reality of dealing with the problem of the ME Free Zone within a framework of power-balance & strategic interests instead of a serious & genuine pursue of saving the tumultuous region from descending into dreadful scenarios by speeding the process of establishing the Free Zone (the ironical delaying of holding the Helsinki Conference is a clear example for this); Egypt has tended to regard its – & Syria’s – chemical weapons as a single modest object of military balance with the uncontested nuclear weapons arsenal possessed by Israel.

    Speaking in mere strategic interests terms, the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons is regarded as a loss, rather than a gain, to the weak & non-Nuclear armed Arab group facing to the nuclear armed Israel. And this is especially viewed by Egypt, as Egypt now stands alone (from the group of Arab countries) with its chemical weapons in order to singularly pressure the West to take serious steps in regard to Israel’s nuclear weapons.

    It’s true that removing Syria’s chemical weapons is a must, as those weapons were used by the regime against its own people, & in my point of view, it has to be complemented with a military intervention (however the scale), given that the Syrian people are facing a genocide for nearly three years now, & Geneva political negotiations have even failed to reach an agreement to send humanitarian aid to Syrians, let alone give positive indications for stopping the civil war, & sufficing to remove the regime’s chemical weapons will not cause a fundamental change in the genocide, famine, migration, & poverty that Syrian people face everyday; but it is also true that removing Syria’s chemical weapons has caused further complications to the already dangerously unstable strategic & security imbalances in the region, & remove much needed productive pressures on the US & Israel who currently form the major obstacle ahead of establishing a nuclear & WMD Free Zone in the Mideast.

    Noha Tarek

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