This weekend’s Geneva agreement, brokered by the U.S. and Russia, calls for Syria to outline its chemical weapons stocks within a week and to destroy its stocks by the middle of next year, both of which are great steps in theory. But the agreement, already hailed by the Syrian government as a “victory,” will not affect the outcome of the war nor will it halt the killings by conventional weapons or improve the quality of life for those millions of refugees currently living in appalling conditions.
The agreement appears to have, for now at least, postponed any Western military action against Syria. But with at least 110,000 people already dead in the country, it is hard to see how this agreement will slow down the rate of killings. If not by sarin or VX, the regime can continue to slaughter with mortar bombs and sniper fire.
And alongside the Syrian government itself, the other victors from this agreement appear to be Israel and the two Cold War enemies that created the deal themselves. Putin himself has possibly never enjoyed such a standing in parts of the Middle East, or such prominence on the global stage. Israel is quietly satisfied in the knowledge that it is very unlikely that it should be forced to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, while its northern neighbor has to do so.
The details of the agreement are vague enough to leave plenty of room for maneuvering, rather reminiscent of all preceding deals struck with the Syrian regime over the last two years of war. What details do exist are astoundingly ambitious. Over 30 years after the U.S. began destroying its own stockpiles it has been unable to complete the task, and that is a country living at peace, domestically, and with a strong infrastructure and central government.
Instead of using the threat of military action against Damascus to create a meaningful initiative – a promise from the regime to ensure humanitarian access to those suffering, to usher in an interim government or the promise of free elections – the U.S. has stumbled and stuttered, treating diplomacy as a game to play for its own ends, and protecting what it can of its own image.
Thus the Syrian people have once again been ignored, with hundreds dying each day, while Kerry and Lavrov laugh and shake hands in a peaceful European capital. This does not bode well for the Arab region as a whole, which is once again being used as a proxy battleground for other powers and their commercial and military ambitions, due in part to deep-seated Middle Eastern divisions and weaknesses in the face of what should be a common enemy.
The Syrian people, it appears, will have to plough on, despite the increasing obstacles they face, and the renewed vigor with which the regime has been emboldened. Relying on external powers now will likely only prolong the war even further.