Sunday, September 15, 2013

The recent Kerry-Lavrov agreement - discussion part II

I want to begin this post by sincerely thanking everybody who has contributed comments to the topic of the recent Kerry-Lavrov agreement.  This is an important moment in the Syrian conflict and, I would even argue, possibly a crucial moment in US-Russian relations, and to have differences of opinion on this issue is not only normal, it is inevitable.  One way or another, this agreement will have momentous consequences because it is quite clear that both sides (here I mean Russia and the US) have decided to articulate their future policies around their interpretation of this agreement and its implications.  I am thus really delighted to have the opportunity to return to this topic and to parse this agreement thanks to Robert who pointed me to the full text.

Now, before I go any further, I think that it is important to outline a number of my assumptions.  After all, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is one's definition of what is good and bad, desirable and undesirable, helpful or not.  Furthermore, the Kerry-Lavrov agreement has to be seen in the context of Russian and American goals and strategies.  Only by taking these into account can we see which sides got the better outcome.  So here are a few of my personal assumptions which serve as my working hypothesis, if not outright axioms:

1) Russia does not have the intention to start war against US/NATO over Syria nor does it want to be dragged into one.
2) While Syria is very important to Russia, it is not vital.
3) US diplomats have long record of breaking and re-interpreting agreements they sign, from the Indian wars to the war on Libya.
4) Russia is not the world's policeman and it has no special obligation at all to oppose US policies in the Middle-East or elsewhere.
5) Russia has already done more for Syria than the rest of the planet combined.
6) The insurgency in Syria cannot win without a US/NATO military intervention.
7) The US understands that Syria cannot win without a US/NATO military intervention.
8) While the real supreme goal in Russia in this conflict is not to protect Assad but to uphold International Law, it will be impossible to achieve this objective if the US is allowed to break International Law and attacks Syria.  In other words, the sole way for Russia to make International Law something which cannot be ignored is to prevent the USA from ignoring it in Syria.  In other words again, to prevent the USA to attack Syria is the necessary means to the goal of making International Law relevant again.
9) The demise of International Law began during the war in Croatia and Bosnia in 1995 when the US/NATO grossly mis-interpreted the UN Resolutions on Bosnia and Croatia and agreed to become the "Croatian and Bosnian-Muslim Air Force".
10) The International Law was fully destroyed by the US/NATO when they agreed to become the "KLA's Air Force" over Kosovo in 1988-1999 and at this point in time it is still dead.

Again, if we disagree on these assumptions will will have to disagree in our assessment of the latest Kerry-Lavrov agreement.  I will now assume that we do agree on the assumptions above and turn to the analysis of the text itself.  I will now take quotes from the text itself and give you my assessment of them:
The United States and the Russian Federation commit to work together towards prompt adoption of a UN Security Council resolution that reinforces the decision of the OPCW Executive Council. 
Ok, this is no big big deal, but I would want to mention here that there was absolutely no need to involved the UNSC in this issue.  A country can accede to the OPCW which itself then can assess the degree of compliance of this country with OPCW norms.  The only possible reason why anybody would want to refer this issue to the UNSC is that the UNSC does have the right to impose actions on a UN member country through Chapter VII UNSC Resolutions.  Thus, the simple fact of "reinforcing" the decisions of the OPCW by UNSC Resolutions is to threaten Syria.  But it gets much worse.
(...) in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Now, please follow me carefully here.  I will make that in the form of a Q&A:

Q: will the insurgency accede to the OPCW?
A: no.
Q: then which is the only party whose compliance to the terms of this convention will be monitored by the UNSC?
A: the Syrian government.
Q: in theory, who could use chemical weapons in Syria?
A: the insurgency and the Syrian government
Q: if the insurgency uses chemical weapons what will happen?
A: the UNSC would have to impose Chapter VII measures.
Q: against whom can such measures be imposed?
A: against the Syrian government
Q: in the light of the above, what should the insurgency do?
A: use chemical weapons.
Q: What does "the UNSC should impose measures under Chapter VII" mean?
A: That this resolutions preempts/presupposes/decides what the UNSC must do.
Q: what else does it mean?
A: that the UNSC cannot decide on measures other than Chapter VII measures.
Q: if Russia and the US have now already decided what the UNSC must do, what does it mean for the other members of the UNSC including the P5?
A: it means that their right to an opinion has been disregarded.

I don't now about you, but in my opinion this paragraph is an absolute disaster.  The two "any use" and "by anyone" are bad enough, but the way this paragraph simply pushes aside the UNSC as a whole and all its members, including the other P5 (UK, China and France) smacks of yet another violation of international law and the UN Charter.

Now, I know that some of you will say that this is a very negative interpretation of this paragraph and they will offer a far more creative one.  They will say that if the insurgency uses chemical weapons this would give Russia the right to bomb the crap out of them.  Guys, I *love* the idea, but that ain't happening.  Not in the real world.  If you really believe that, I got a bridge to sell to you, and if I am wrong, well then I will eat my hat, but keep in mind that I worked at the UN myself and I know how this body works.  If you have any illusions about UNSC resolutions being applied fairly, just take a look at the history of UNSC on Palestine and get real.

Then there is this one:
The United States and the Russian Federation have further decided that to achieve accountability for their chemical weapons, the Syrians must provide the OPCW, the UN, and other supporting personnel with the immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites in Syria.
Iraq redux for sure.   And some of you have pointed out that this means letting CIA/DIA/NSA/OGA agents into any building in Iraq.  True.  But it's even worse in this case.  In Iraq there was no insurgency.  This time around, these "UN spies" can provide invaluable tactical intelligence to the insurgency.  Also, there is another function that these inspection teams have demonstrated in Iraq: just pissing off the government with tons of absolutely ridiculous and unrealistic requests.  Remember "Saddam's palaces" for example?  Well, this time around these "UN spies" will not only be able to demand the access to any bunker or command post used by Assad in case of attack, they also will be able to demand access to the laundry room of his wife and kids.  Or they can demand access to the worst combat zone possible.  And if they are prevented from getting there, who will they blame?  Assad, of course.  And if he does let them go and they are attack, who will they then blame?  Assad again, of course.

Now I want to reply to some of your recent comments:
Syria is going to be under Russian protection from here on. It's the Russian military that will keep Syria free.
No, and that is actually a very dangerous illusion.  Not only does this notion contradict axioms 1 and 2 above, it also assumes that Russia has accepted an obligation or a policy which it has clearly and unambiguously rejected many many times in the past.  The illusion of Russian protection is as dangerous as any illusion of safety.  Just as you would be far better off climbing up a mountain with no ropes than to climb it with thin and weak ropes which will break, Syria is better off knowing and accepting that Russia will not fight NATO/US over it.  There are, at this point in time, only two countries which Russia has committed to defend militarily: South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  That's it.
As Russia has repeatedly explained, it is defending international law not Assad. The reference in the agreement to a possible Security Council Resolution under Chapter VII is absolutely necessary in order to emphasise that it is the Security Council NOT unilaterally the US, which has the authority to decide whether or not Syria is in breach of its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and to decide what action should then be taken
That is an elegant argument and I cannot fully disagree with it.  However, the problem is that the Kerry-Lavrov agreement ALSO preempt/prejudges what the UNSC must/should do.  The other problem is that if the US goes to the UNSC and does not get the vote it wants, it will then say something along the lines of "Syria is in non-compliance, but the Russians are denying that even though the agreement signed by them clearly says that non-compliance would be enforced by Chapter VII -type measures. If the Russians are now reneging on their obligations, we, as the leader and protector of the free world and civilized mankind, shall proudly shoulder our obligations to the international community and the Syrian people".  Remember axioms 3, 9 and 10 above.  The historical record clearly shows how the US would act in such a situation.
ONE PERSON I've never (NEVER EVER!) questioned out of all Russian (and indeed world) politicians - is Sergei Lavrov. The man is more than smart, he's a foreign policy genius! If the world's fate ever depended solely on one man, and I was the one that should choose whom it should be - I'd choose Lavrov. I never expect a 'blunder' from the man.
I have immense respect for Lavrov who, besides being a world-class diplomat is also a very nice and highly principled man.  He is at least as mart as James Baker was, but unlike Baker, Lavrov stands for humanity, decency, common sense and, basically, for everything good.  However, and it pains me to have to mention that here, Lavrov was also the foreign minister of Russia when Russia betrayed Iran and reneged on its obligation to deliver the S-300s Iran had already paid for.  Worse, Lavrov was also the foreign minister of Russia when Russia did not veto a UNSC Resolution which so obviously gave the US/NATO a green light to do anything it wanted in Libya.  The problem, by friend, is not Lavrov, and when I wrote that "Lavrov blunders" I meant Lavrov as the agent of the Kremlin, not him personally.  He is way to refined a diplomat to ever express is own opinion.  And in the Kremlin there are at least two factions locked in a deathgrip trying to destroy each other.  I wrote about this here and here.  One of these factions is what I call the "Atlantic Integrationists" usually represented by Medvedev and these guys are still far from being powerless.  Worse, most Russian banks and big corporations do support this faction also.  What we see in this agreement is a typical compromise between the interests of different groups, not only in Russia, by the way, but also in the USA.  But I would urge you not to endow Lavrov with any degree of infallibility, he is not the Pope and, besides, history has shown the Popes are just as fallible as regular man, or even more.
I'm not sure what Russia was thinking, I dont believe it was sell-out (even though it looks like it), but at this time its unclear what concessions they got to agree to this abomination deal. I do hope these concessions arent entirely for Russia itself...
No, this was most definitely not a sell-out! For some reason most of you seem to have overlook my initial conclusion so let me re-state it here:
I personally see this latest agreement as a Russian diplomatic failure and I hope that it will not have any serious consequences. Overall, Putin's "Russian Gambit" is something like a 80% success, but without this mention of "Chapter VII" it could have been a 100% success. The Kremlin is walking a very dangerous path here and following this latest failure, it cannot afford any further mistakes.
Did anybody notice that I still believe that the Russian policy in Syria is at an 80% success.  That is hardly a sell-out, especially when we consider that Russia has no, repeat, *NO* obligations towards Syria.

We are so used to the US propaganda about "meeting its obligations" (always reminds me of the infamous "White man's burden") that I feel I must really stress that here:

Not only is Russia not another USA, its not even an anti-USA

Russia is, and wants to be, a regular country.  Just like Portugal, Peru, Thailand or Senegal.  Yes, it is a bigger and more powerful version of a regular country, but that does not automatically make it into some kind of "USA v2" or "anti-USA".  Of course, we all understand that Russia is de-facto the world leader against the Ango-Zionist Empire, that is of course the case, but that is a Russian choice, not an obligation at all.

Besides, China is almost as big as Russia and it has a far bigger population and GDP - so why does nobody speak of a Chinese sell-out?  Because the Chinese were not part of the Kerry-Lavrov negotiations?  But that could be easily interpreted as a Chinese sell-out as they "did not even make an effort to influence the outcome".  That is silly, of course, but what I am trying to explain here is that it is both illogical and unfair to demand that Russia have some kind of special and unique role in world affairs, especially at a time when Russia itself is doing everything possible to prevent any country, including Russia, from playing such a role of a planetary hegemon.

So this is why even though I see the latest US-Russian agreement as a blunder for the Russian diplomacy and even though I find the agreement itself absolutely terrible and highly ambiguous, I don't see any reason to panic and I most definitely am not saying that Russia has betrayed Syria or any such kind of nonsense.  In diplomacy, like in everything else, "shit happens" and errare humanum est.  What Russia, and Syria, need to do now is accept the fact of this mistake and persevere towards the end goal.  Actually, there are two end goals here, but which fully depend on each other:

a) restore peace to Syria
b) resurrect the primacy of International Law in international relations

One cannot be achieved without the other.  And both of them can also be expressed in a more indirect, but very accurate way nonetheless:

Remove the USA from its current position as world hegemon, bring down the Anglo-Zionist Empire and turn the USA into another "regular" country.

This is, in my opinion, where things stand at this moment.

Guys, I had to write all of the above under great time pressure and hurry and I apologize in advance for all the typos, poor grammar, missing words, lousy spellcheck, etc.  I offer the above as a basis for discussion and not as an academic paper :-)

Please let me know what you think, and don't hesitate to vehemently disagree with me because, really, nothing would make me as happy as being proven wrong in this case.

Many thanks and kind regards,

The Saker