The Taboo Against Chemical Weapons Remains Strong

The Nobel Peace Prize winning Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons certified that all of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been either taken out of the country or destroyed.  Of course, Syrians are still being killed in ghastly numbers by conventional weapons. And there are even reports that toxic agents like chlorine gas are being dropped from barrel bombs by the Assad government. Still, in a conflict that has seen very little progress, the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile can be considered a success –and also offer a potential guide for how this awful conflict may finally come to an end.

The elimination of Syria’s chemical stockpiles is a success in its own right. These are inherently indiscriminate weapons and since World War One the laws against the use of chemical weapons has generally held strong. The Syrian government’s violation of these laws last September shocked the conscience of the international community and lead quickly to a determination on the part of the Obama administration to enforce this taboo, by force if necessary.

The Security Council, including Russia and China, rallied around the idea that chemical weapons were a step too far, even in a conflict as brutal as this. The Council created the OPCW mission and compelled the Syrian government to cooperate with it.  This was the one instance in the Syrian conflict in which the international community, namely the Security Council, lived up to its role as the guarantor of international peace and security. And, in so doing the taboo against the use of chemical weapons in warfare remains strong.

This moment also shows that progress on Syria is possible, but that progress requires the unity of the Security Council. If there is to be an international diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis, it will have to run through the Security Council. And for that to become manifest, Russia and the United States need to get on the same page. This happened with the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, so there is no inherent reason that the Security Council can’t come together for a lasting solution to the Syrian crisis.