Delayed International Respose to Syria is Toothless

With talks of Syria handing over its chemical weapons cache, the exact location of the weapons remains a mystery. This poses a stumbling block for any progress to be made between Damascus, Moscow, and Washington. The scattering of these weapons throughout Syria gives the Assad regime time to drag out the talks, and possibly delay the collection of chemical weapons for as long as possible making an attack by the United States even less likely.

The army unit in charge of moving the stockpiles, the highly secretive Unit 450, has been moving chemical weapons around for months. Intelligence reports indicate the moves were made as recently as last week after the Obama administration vowed strikes against the Syrian government for its alleged involvement in August's sarin gas attack. However, thanks to Congress' reluctance and the new Russian-Syrian proposal, the Assad regime would hand over its chemical weapons to international control, which caused White House backed away from its threats.

What was once a military tactic is now a diplomatic one. The constant movement of the weapons makes it less likely that they can be found and taken by the opposition. With chemical weapons scattered throughout the country in as many as 50 separate locations, it will take a lot more time for inspectors to go from hideout to hideout and remove the weapons. The longer the negotiations drag on, the less likely the United States will follow through on its "red-line" threat.

This leaves the United States twisting in the wind. The hawks in the Obama administration and in Congress were pretty eager to start a bombing campaign as quickly as possible without considering the potential fallout the strikes would cause. With talks between Moscow and Washington already underway and with progress being dubbed "constructive" by Secretary of State John Kerry, talk of starting a war with Syria seems to be abating for now, which is precisely what the Syrian government wants.

Should talks deteriorate and eventually end, the Syrian army still maintains the advantage of its chemical weapons' locations remaining secret and scattered. Although satellite imagery makes it possible to watch Unit 450 prepare the necessary equipment needed to move the stockpiles, one U.S. intelligence official claims that they "know a lot less than we did six months ago about where the chemical weapons are." Keeping the United States in the dark for as long as possible is the best way for Assad to avoid a direct military confrontation with the U.S.

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Frank Lopapa

Graduate of the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, specializing in International Security and Global Negotiation and Conflict Management. Guest contributor to international affairs magazine Diplomatic Courier. When not writing about security issues for Policy Mic, I cover Italian soccer for Forza Italian Football, among other places.

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