Event Recap: U.S.-Russian Cooperation to Eliminate Syria's Chemical Weapons

Visiting Researcher Amy Gordon presented her research on US-Russian Cooperation in 2013 to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons

Amy Gordon

On September 22, CERES Visiting Researcher Amy Gordon discussed the positive cooperation between the U.S. and Russia eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons in 2013. Amy Gordon previously directed the International Security Program at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and served at the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.


Crisis Development

Gordon began her talk by describing how U.S.-Russian cooperation emerged in 2013. Initially in the development of the crisis in Syria, the U.S. and Russia disagreed on the fate of Assad. It is important to note, Gordon says, that “Syria and chemical weapons in particular during this period were rising to the top of the bilateral agenda at the same time that bilateral relations were disintegrating.” While the US and Russia were trying to work together, various events such as the passing of the Magnitsky Act and the scandal involving Edward Snowden strained their relationship.

Gordon then outlined five factors contributing factors to the crisis. First, the stalemate between the U.S. and Russia in the UNSC over Assad made it difficult to come to an agreement on chemical weapons in Syria. Second, the tough U.S. rhetoric against Assad combined with weak follow-through created ambiguity and was not effective for deterrence. Third, the deterioration in bilateral relations made it harder for the U.S. and Russia to engage on Syrian chemical weapons. Fourth, Assad complicated the situation by using chemical weapons on his own people. Fifth, the metastasizing conflict made the issue of chemical weapons difficult to address in peace negotiations. The more complex the situation became, the more difficult it was to address subsidiary issues.


Resolution of the Conflict

Gordon then outlined the five factors that helped resolve the conflict by setting the foundations for a resolution. First, the U.S. resolve to use force helped to reshape Russian and Syrian tactics. Second, Russia did try to persuade Assad. Third, the active bilateral dialogue between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov enabled them to make policy recommendations to their respective presidents. Fourth, the bilateral experts channel pre-existed the crisis in 2013.  Fifth, the international community’s legal authority, political influence, the technical expertise were leveraged very quickly and with considerable foresight.


Implications for US-Russia Cooperation

In her concluding remarks, Gordon said that the implications for future cooperation are not as positive as many have thought, but cooperation over chemical weapons “did demonstrate how effective the two countries [the U.S. and Russia] can be when we lock arms and cooperate on issues of this complexity and political sensitivity.”