Words and the Threat of Syrian Chemical Weapons: WMD Deterrence at Stake in the Middle East?
2012-12-06 by Robbin Laird
As Richard Weitz has argued in a companion piece:
In the past few days President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and a number of other U.S. and foreign officials have issued highly visible public warnings to the Syrian government not to use their chemical weapons stockpiles.
In a speech at the National Defense University (NDU) on December 3, President Obama said that his administration had “increased concern” that Syria would engage in the “totally unacceptable” use of chemical weapons. “If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons,” Obama warned, “there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.”
The White House’s Press Secretary, Jay Carney, indicated earlier that day that the United States might take military action, in consultations with allied governments, to address the threat. “We think it is important to prepare for all scenarios,” Mr. Carney said. “Contingency planning is the responsible thing to do.”
Tough words, but what actions would correlate with such language?
In the Middle East, with the Benghazi attacks, the Iranian progress towards nuclear weapons, the proliferation of missiles in Gaza and recent Israeli actions, what constitutes deterrence is an interactive process. It also needs to be closely correlated with realistic and definite military actions which could be taken to deter Syrian use of chemical weapons.
Put in other terms, with Iran backing Syria, with Russia backing Syria, with Iraq backing Syria, just what would the US do when chemical weapons are used?
This matters in two ways. If chemical strikes were to be generated from Syrian territory against Turkey or Israel it is certainly plausible to talk about defensive options. NATO is deploying Patriots to Turkey to deter the effects of a strike and Israel would without hesitation strike Syria with various assets.
But what actions could the US military take to restore deterrence?
Once chemical weapons have been used a threshold is crossed, and the credibility of the words of American leaders challenged.
It is then a question of the restoration of deterrence particularly with the Iranians and others looking on?
“We think it is important to prepare for all scenarios,” Mr. Carney said. “Contingency planning is the responsible thing to do.”
Interesting choice of words, but what options does the US and Western powers have available?
The challenge is that when chemical weapons are used, notably in any effective operations against Syrian rebels, the only real option is to invade and overthrow the regime. As the operation in Libya has shown, loose manpads simply moved out of the country with the absence of ground forces. Clearly, the same could be the case with regard to Syrian chemical weapons.
The question remains whether there are any real options should of invading the country to respond to a WMD threat.
President Obama certainly did not like the Bush Administration action towards Iraq but if the same problem pops up in Syria is there a better alternative?
For a look at a European perspective on the challenge see the following:
And this is how it all began-a decade ago: