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NYRB: Syria: What Chance to Stop the Slaughter?

Author: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch
November 21, 2013

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"What then might be done to convince Russia to end its defense of Assad's atrocities and to continue down the constructive path suggested by the chemical weapons deal at the UN and the statement in favor of humanitarian relief? One reason Moscow has been able to continue its intransigence for so long is that it has paid little price for it."

How should we make sense of the enforcement of a "red line" prohibiting one horrible weapon that has killed relatively few but leaving untouched the conventional weapons that the Syrian military has used to kill tens of thousands? It is easy to disparage a chemical weapons deal that aims to stop the method of slaughter responsible for fewer than 2 percent of Syria's estimated 115,000 deaths resulting from the conflict over the past two-and-a-half years while leaving unimpeded the means used to slaughter more than 98 percent. "Red light for chemical weapons, green light for conventional weapons" would fairly summarize the approach.

Yet it would be wrong to belittle September's last-minute diplomatic breakthrough in which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seized on US Secretary of State John Kerry's seemingly offhand remark that Syria could avoid US military action by surrendering its chemical weapons. To begin with, averting another US military intervention in the volatile Middle East is no small matter. Congressional support for President Barack Obama's proposed military enforcement of what he called his "red line" was by no means certain, but Russia feared the not-unimaginable possibility that the Senate would give Obama the support he sought and that he would then act without waiting for the likely House rejection.

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