For the reason that Nineteen Seventies, the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) had a chemical weapons programme: With an estimated 1,000 tons of chemical gases, Syria was thought to own the third largest chemical weapons stockpile worldwide (CRS, 2013, 5) which it made use of ceaselessly all through the primary years of its civil battle (Ibid, 12). Nevertheless, on 14/9/2013, Syria, acceded to the Conference on the Prohibition of the Improvement, Manufacturing, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC) regardless of having repeatedly demonstrated a scarcity of concern for worldwide weapons treaties up till then. So what modified? The chemical weapons assault carried out by the Syrian authorities on 21/8/2013 towards its personal residents, which was met with a risk of army motion, is broadly accepted because the turning level. Norm theorists would argue that the unprecedented backlash to this assault from  international governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Worldwide Organisations (IOs) explains Syria’s accession to  the CWC. Nevertheless, can the approaching army risk of the US be ignored as a consider Syria’s accession? Realists argue that, with state survival being a state’s highest precedence, dedication to the CWC was based mostly on rapid state curiosity, defending Syria towards an imminent US army strike. This disagreement touches on the roots of a wider IR debate between Realists and Institutionalists relating to compliance and coercion.

After giving a short historic introduction starting from the institution of the Syrian chemical weapons program to their accession to the CWC in 2013, this essay will contribute to this debate in outlining each the norm-based and realist method and apply them to this case. After reviewing and evaluating proof, this essay will in the end argue {that a} neoclassical realist method can finest clarify Syria’s case.

Regardless of loads of proof for the existence of Syria’s longstanding chemical weapons programme, its existence was repeatedly denied by the Syrian authorities. Defying long-standing calls to surrender its chemical weapons stockpile, Syria didn’t decide to eliminating its chemical weapons till 2013. Probably the most notable warning towards utilizing chemical weapons got here in 2012 with Obama’s well-known “crimson line” speech, through which he dedicated to army motion in case of chemical weapon utilization (CNN, 2012). Nonetheless, on the 21/8/2013, the Syrian authorities carried out a chemical weapons assault on the district of Ghouta, killing 1,400 civilians (HRW, 2013). This assault was met with common condemnation by actors equivalent to international governments, transnational actors and the Syrian inhabitants and represented a breach of the “crimson line” Obama had imposed a 12 months earlier. Reactions to the assault included Obama asking for congressional approval to invade Syria and the drafting of the “Authorization for the Use of Army Power In opposition to the Authorities of Syria to Reply to Use of Chemical Weapons” invoice (Congress, 2013), Human Rights Watch (HRW) releasing a denouncing report and the United Nations (UN) passing a decision asking for an investigation into the assault.

Syria was thus each in peril of being attacked by the US and confronted rising normative stress from the worldwide group. Nevertheless, an American invasion by no means befell: Syria and the Russian Federation (Russia) collectively proposed to position Syria’s stockpile underneath worldwide management, stopping additional army escalation. Syria formally acceded to the CWC on the 14th September 2013, whereas the US and Russia signed the “Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons”, agreeing upon eliminating everything of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile. Lastly, on the sixteenth October 2013, the OPCW-UN Joint Mission was formally established, with the mandate to supervise the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

Based on the idea of norm cascades proposed by Finnemore and Sikkink, worldwide norms are vital for understanding the motives behind treaty dedication. Of their 1998 essay ‘Norm Dynamics and Political Change’, Finnemore and Sikkink suggest that norms are established by going by a “life cycle” (892) and will be understood as a three-stage course of made up of norm emergence, norm cascade and internalization: As soon as a “vital mass” of states adopts a norm, a norm cascade emerges, main different states to emulate this habits and to additionally undertake this norm. Throughout this stage, states could also be motivated to undertake norms attributable to issues over legitimacy, esteem and repute (898). In the direction of the top of a cascade, a norm turns into a “customary of applicable behaviour” (891) and norm-breaking behaviour “generates disapproval or stigma” (892). Subsequently, not each state have to be satisfied of a norm in an effort to undertake it: The legitimacy a longtime norm brings is an incentive for states to decide to it. That is supported by Simmons, who argues that governments are primarily involved with their repute and be a part of worldwide commitments for signalling functions, publicly demonstrating their will to adjust to the requirements of the worldwide group (Simmons, 2000, 821). Signalling issues are of specific significance to states struggling credibility points, to mark themselves “true reformers” (Ibid., 821) and acquire priceless help within the worldwide group. On this framework, the UN acts as a political legitimizer, as Safety Council Resolutions and UN membership affect a rustic’s repute (Claude, in Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998, 889). This concept exhibits the worldwide energy of norms and the facilitating function of worldwide organizations in influencing states to affix intergovernmental commitments.

Norm cascades can account for the Syrian accession to the CWC, as in 2013, with 98% of all states having signed and ratified the conference (OPCW), the “vital mass” of help had lengthy been fulfilled and the norm was already ultimately of the second stage of its  life cycle: the norm cascade. With worldwide stress following the Ghouta assault, Syria confronted an unprecedented risk towards legitimacy as one of many solely international locations to haven’t but signed the CWC. Norm theorists would level to the beforehand mentioned backlash towards this resolution as proof of worldwide stress that Syria finally succumbed to. Proof to help this could present that Syria was certainly involved with problems with legitimacy/repute and that the Ghouta assault resulted in unprecedented, heightened worldwide stress. It ought to additional present that they in actual fact succumbed to this worldwide stress.

Syria’s resolution to decide to the Chemical Weapons Conference may be defined by its urge to safe state survival in any respect prices, a proof that rests on a realist evaluation moderately than a normative method. Realists place state survival and nationwide safety on the coronary heart of international coverage issues, arguing that states exist in an anarchical, self-help based mostly system – the place each state ensures their very own survival at first. Krasner argues that states thus function from a base perspective of  “egoist self-interest” (1982, 195), partaking in cooperation solely when it advantages their rational self-interested international coverage objectives. He claims that the motivating issue for states in becoming a member of worldwide commitments is an try to extend their participatory benefit, not a need to accede to a normative worldwide customary. Nevertheless, a neorealist understanding alone doesn’t clarify Syria’s resolution to affix the CWC so late – in an effort to acquire a realist understanding of Syria’s coverage change, a complete understanding of each exterior pressures and inner receptiveness is important. As neorealist issues lack a wider understanding for the transmission of energy into coverage, this essay will thus relaxation on the tenets of neoclassical realism.

Taking an important facets of neorealism into consideration, neoclassical realism argues that energy and self-interest set up the essential parameters of a rustic’s international coverage, however that there isn’t a rapid transmission from risk to motion. As such, they take two unit-level intervening variables into consideration: First, policymakers’ notion of a risk, and second, home state construction (Rose, 1998, 152) . Below the neoclassical realist explanatory framework, Syria thus acceded to the conference as a self-help measure, defending itself towards the specter of a US air strike which policymakers took significantly . Supporting proof ought to present {that a} doable US airstrike was an objectively critical army risk to Syria and that the unit-level intervening variables made the Syrian authorities take this risk significantly. It ought to moreover reveal that the timing of Assad’s resolution to decide to the Conference will be conclusively tied again to imminent army motion and statements by US officers that the assault wouldn’t occur if Syria gave up its chemical weapons.

For norm concept to be convincing, it have to be proven that Syria is in actual fact involved with its worldwide repute and that this repute was  broken by the Ghouta assault, leading to its adoption of the norm of eliminating chemical weapons. Whether or not Syria is worried with worldwide legitimacy will be finest analysed by analyzing its earlier concern/lack of concern for worldwide legitimacy: Syria had beforehand demonstrated concern for its repute, as indicated by earlier makes an attempt to avoid wasting face after chemical weapons assaults: In March 2013, the Syrian authorities had requested that an investigation be carried out by the UN Secretary-Generalto examine allegations of chemical weapons use, alleging that it had not been the federal government who had carried out the assault (Makdisi & Hindawi, 2017, 1696). This try at producing legitimacy was mirrored post-Ghouta: Described by the New York Occasions as an “obvious burst of transparency” (2013), Syria admitted to having chemical weapons overtly for the primary time, abruptly seemingly absolutely cooperating with the OPCW and UN.

Regardless of these indications of Syrian concern for legitimacy, the query arises of whether or not the Syrian regime’s repute was certainly extra severely threatened by the chemical weapons assault than it had already been beforehand. Proof of this newly heightened concern, and thus of an incentive for the Syrian authorities to behave is clear from the criticism of  the Syrian authorities by human rights organisations, Western states and the UN after the assault. This resulted in an “unprecedented” (Naqvi, 2017, 961) truth discovering mission, one among many indicators of the worldwide group’s unprecedented condemnation of Syria’s violation of worldwide norms and of the immense stress the state confronted consequently. That Syria, a state with credibility points, joined the CWC as a “sign” to realize legitimacy, can be supported by its particularly sturdy need to reveal accession to this worldwide norm: Within the letter through which Syria introduced its accession, Assad indicated that Syria would skip the stipulated 30-day leniency interval and instantly observe CWC stipulation (Armscontrol, 2020).This showcases Assad’s sturdy need to ship a sign that Syria was dedicated to eliminating its improvement, manufacturing, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, performing in a means that mirrors Simmons’ prediction as to how states with credibility points act.

Nevertheless, not all proof factors in the direction of a normative framework having the ability to account for the Syrian change of coronary heart. Whereas the Syrian authorities appears to be pushed by some form of need for worldwide recognition, additionally it is true that Syria has been deemed illegitimate and confronted worldwide stress for fairly some  time. Known as names equivalent to “Pariah state” by main Western media retailers (e.g. Open Democracy, 2008), the Syrian authorities is topic to closely damaging Western dialogue and numerous sanctions, most notably these of the US, demonstrating that legitimacy stress plagued the Syrian state earlier than the Ghouta assault as effectively. Instantly after the assault, Syria’s most essential ally, Russia, supported Syria, with Putin stating that he was satisfied the assault was “nothing greater than a provocation by those that wish to drag different international locations into the Syrian battle” (Ray, 2013). Regardless of the mounting pressures on the Syrian regime, the construction of normative legitimacy pressures didn’t change: These international locations condemning Syria’s violation had been making use of normative stress for longer, and Syria was nonetheless capable of depend on the allies offering counterbalance to this condemnation.

If the neoclassical realist method was appropriate, it must be proven that Syria was at risk of a army assault by the USA and that it additionally perceived this risk significantly. In accordance Rose’s “intervening variables”, it isn’t simply related that the US threatened an assault, but additionally that the US has considerably larger relative energy than Syria, making the notion of the US coming into the battle catastrophic, and that Assad perceived the US as keen to intervene: Syria’s distinctive location as a battleground for bigger states with hegemonies positioned it on the nexus of the steadiness of energy between states involved with sustaining these hegemonies within the Center East. With the US, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia every supporting factions within the battle to advance their very own geopolitical objectives, Assad’s management grew to become structurally depending on the help of main allies. American army capabilities within the Center East, when coupled with the strategic significance of the area for its geopolitical pursuits – partially as a result of nation’s essential alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel, partially as a result of rising Russian exercise within the area – gave America a precedent and believable cause to observe by on its threats if the “crimson line” had been breached. Assad, realizing that the US’ power-maximizing method to Center Japanese international coverage meant that it couldn’t threat damaging their credibility and energy within the area by failing to observe up on threats, had been pressured to take America’s threats of an invasion significantly. Based on a neoclassical realist framework Syria would have thus acceded to the CWC attributable to each the target risk of the US and its personal perceptions of the risk’s legitimacy.

Whereas the normative method gives nice worth in clearly demonstrating that Syria’s actions post-Ghouta had been partly performative and signal-sending, it in the end fails in taking Syria’s distinctive place absolutely into consideration. Worldwide legitimacy does play a job in informing a state’s resolution to affix broadly accepted treaties and authorized obligations, nevertheless, having sturdy allies Syria, has (aside from few, remoted cases) demonstrated it doesn’t want Western legitimacy to function efficiently. Syria’s case is outlined by the intervening variables solely neoclassical realism takes into consideration: With out the US’s immense army energy, Syria’s geopolitical location in addition to the US’s historic readiness to intervene within the Center East al-Bashar Assad wouldn’t have perceived the army threats as he did, in the end resulting in the by state survival pushed resolution to decide to the CWC. The neoclassical method is thus essentially the most applicable framework in explaining why Syria joined the CWC.

In conclusion, it may be reiterated that the neoclassical realist framework is the superior framework in accounting for why Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Conference following the 2013 Ghouta chemical weapons assault. So how does this contribute to the broader debate between realists and norm theorists? Although institutionalists not directly handle a key side in management perceptions – specifically, the significance of worldwide credibility – their method to the query of why states be a part of worldwide establishments is flawed, failing to supply the identical explanatory worth that neoclassical realism does. Syria’s case evidences the truth that norm cascades alone don’t assure the adoption of worldwide frameworks. Quite, norm cascades will be reconciled with the strategic priorities that neoclassical realists emphasize – an adoption of a norm that has “cascaded” is, in lots of instances, a key a part of a state’s strategic makes an attempt to keep up worldwide safety by avoiding a confrontation with extra highly effective states that could be driving the cascading of this norm ahead. Neoclassical realists’ emphasis of the significance of hegemony in driving ahead norm cascades – a perspective that’s validated by the significance of US threats in driving Syria’s accession to the CWC – in the end gives a stronger account for the way norms disseminate. Finally, this essay showcases that these days realism should think about extra components than simply balancing. Given the unchallenged hegemony of the US, balancing is in the end futile for weaker states – actions equivalent to Syria’s could thus fall into an account of strategic realism even when they don’t make use of conventional power-balancing initiatives. Realist approaches can solely stand the take a look at of time if they permit for an evaluation of how states search safety by leveraging establishment moderately than uncooked power-balancing.

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Written at: London College of Economics
Written for: Anna Getmansky
Date written: 05/2020

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