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Will the Syrian Chemical Weapons Deal Work?

September 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the deal between the US and Russia on Syria's chemical weapons and what effect the removal of such weapons may have on the Syrian civil war.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Can the chemical weapons deal be enforced and even if it can be, what other weapons does the Assad regime retain and how much of a threat does it remain?

Anthony Cordesman is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and is a noted national security analyst. He joins us now from Washington.

I have to ask, the rebels have said this was a stall tactic. You were at the Pentagon yesterday, how confident are they in the enforcement of the deal?

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Nobody can be confident yet. The deal covers all the bases. It talks about verification. It talks about disposal. It sets tight deadlines. It gives access to the inspecting groups. On paper it’s all very, very good. Problem is you never know how any of this works until you go into the field.

You will be doing this in a country that’s at war. There are a lot of different sites. They all have different types of weapons. Until you actually get there, you don’t know what methods of disposal you are going to use. You don’t know the problems in moving them if you are going to take them out of the country.

You don’t even know the technical way to do it. Then you run up against the problem of exactly how many are there? Can you really do challenge inspection? Will he try to hide some?

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HARI SREENIVASAN: So, let’s say, best case scenario, the chemical weapons are removed off the table, what about all of the other weapons that the Assad regime will still retain that might have been taken out had there been a military strike?

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Well, quite frankly, those are the key. They have been the source of virtually every single casualty that has occurred. No matter how you estimate it, even if you only count the dead and not some 6 million Syrians that have been displaced or made into refugees, chemical weapons would cause less than 20% of the most conservative estimate in any number of people who have died.

The killing mechanisms have been artillery. They have been executions. There has been a U.N. report, issued oddly enough on our 9/11 that shows that the primary mechanisms have been things like torture, detention, displacements. This has not been something where chemical weapons have played a major role. And we know first that they can shift very rapidly. After the President made his announcement, the first time that he would use cruise missiles, within hours, they’d shelled a populated area in Syria that was covered by the BBC.

After they announced this deal in terms of abolishing chemical  weapons, and it was clear there’d be a pause to the certain government immediately started using air power and artillery again. So this is not going to make much difference as far as any of the Syrians are concerned.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right. Finally, a quick question. I’m assuming even though Vladimir Putin makes his case in the New York Times, he is still supplying Assad with weapons.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: We have had statements by members of the Congress that there are regular Russian shipments. One of the problems we have here is no one has provided any assessment at any level from the administration of our efforts to ship arms, of how many arms they are getting from the Iranians, how many arms they are getting from the Russians.

We’ve heard estimates of some 5,000 Hezbollah without anyone actually verifying it.

There are reports of at least three Iranian training camps for the militia and, yet, none of those have been made public.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Thanks so much for your time.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Thank you.