U.S. and Russia, shoulder to shoulder

When I was in college, I took an elective course on the history of American diplomacy. The reason for this choice was probably because my father had been a U.S. diplomat during his first few years after Harvard. He had the good fortune to be posted to the American embassy in Paris during World War I. While there, he had a visit from his younger brother, who was driving an ambulance with the French Army, winning two Croix de Guerre decorations for bravery under fire.carey

The course I took in 1942 was offered by a professor who I was given to understand was the dean of scholars in the field of American diplomacy, Samuel Flagg Bemis. No student ever, that I remember, dared dispute any of the professor’s theories or conclusions. But, for all his deep learning, I suspect he might have been taken aback by the diplomatic developments of the past couple of weeks regarding Syria.

The remarkable cooperation achieved between the U.S. and Russia in confronting Syrian chemical weapons can be seen in their joint national paper setting forth a framework for joint action. The paper was published on Sept. 17 by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The OPCW was created by the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria just joined. Somalia, on June 28, became the 189th state party to the convention, so Syria must be the 190th. That leaves only a handful of non-member countries.

The framework as published says that its original language was English. This was significant. As in commercial negotiations, he or she who first puts a draft on the table has a good chance for it to be the basis for all later bargaining. The first paragraph of the framework notes “the commitment of the Syrian authorities to provisionally apply the convention prior to its entry into force” and the two countries’ “joint determination to ensure the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program in the soonest and safest manner.”

The two countries “commit to work together towards prompt adoption of a UN Security Council resolution that reinforces the decision of the OPCW Executive Council [and that,] 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.”

Chapter VII of the UN Charter is what gives the Security Council authority to use military force to protect international peace and security. If non-military measures are not effective, then, under Article 42, the council “may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Annex A to the U.S./Russian framework is entitled “Principles for Decision Document by OPCW Executive Council.” Ten such principles are listed. Number 7 is: “The decision should address a schedule for the rapid destruction of Syrian chemical weapons capabilities. This schedule should take into account the following target dates: (a) Completion of initial OPCW on-site inspections of declared sites by November. (b) Destruction of production and mixing/filling equipment by November. (c) Complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment in the first half of 2014.”

The degree of cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in the Syrian situation is so remarkable as to challenge anyone to recall anything like it in the more than six-decade history of the United Nations. It shows that the former Cold War rivals are capable of jo­int action of a robust kind when th­eir interests coincide to a suffici­­e­nt extent.