The international chemical weapons body, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been granted substantial new authority in a vote Wednesday. In addition to investigating the specifics of chemical attacks, they will also be charged with assigning blame.
The vote was pushed by Western nations, and Britain and particular, with an eye toward getting the OPCW to sign off on Western accusations of Syrian government chemical attacks, as well as Britain’s claim of a Russian poisoning on British soil.
Russian officials were deeply critical of the move, with Ambassador Alexander Shulgin warning it did severe damage to the OPCW, and that Russia considered the group’s collapse to be “in the making” after the vote.
The ability of the OPCW to assign blame remains to be seen. The body has always been empowered to identify if chemical attacks took place and, if possible, specify which chemicals were used. They’ve never been asked to decide who the culprit was, and previously were explicitly forbidden from trying to do so.
These are two very different jobs. Details on if attacks took place are purely scientific investigations. Coming up with responsible parties would require a lot of detective work, and in many cases may still not be possible.
This also risks politicizing the OPCW. Several nations have major interest in seeing specific countries blamed for certain attacks, and repeat this narrative irrespective of evidence. The OPCW will be expected by those nations to sign off on those stories, and if they don’t play ball, they could quickly find themselves with enemies.