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Syria's chemical weapons and United States-Russian intervention: diplomacy in action?

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posted on 15.12.2016, 03:12 authored by Tatenda Jane Dzvarai
On August 21, 2013, a relatively large-scale chemical weapons attack was executed
   in the Ghouta area of Damascus, Syria. This incident was the culmination of a series of chemical attacks perpetrated by the Assad regime. Syria's use of chemical weapons violated its treaty commitments and customary international law, especially the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention that explicitly bans the use of chemical weapons. The attacks caused tensions within the United Nations Security Council, especially between the United States and Russia. The motives and interests of these countries differed to such an extent that it led to a stalemate in responding to the chemical weapons attacks. While the United States called for limited military intervention to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons as well as to deter any future use of these weapons through a process of degrading, Russia met the United States’ push for action with fierce opposition. The question therefore is, how did the United States and Russia manage to finally foster consensus and cooperation in Syria amidst their diverging positions?
The main aim of this research is to examine the role that diplomacy played in addressing Syria’s chemical weapons use during its civil war. In order to provide an investigation into the role of diplomacy, the study will evaluate and review key diplomatic strategies that explain the diplomatic process through which the United States and Russia dealt with Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Three possible diplomatic strategies are identified, namely, multilateral diplomacy, disarmament diplomacy and coercive diplomacy. The thesis will argue that the strategy eventually adopted by the United States and Russia to get Syria to a state of compliance was a case of coercive diplomacy. As such, the thesis specifically examines the concept of coercive diplomacy and how it has been utilised in dealing with Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.


Principal supervisor

Anna-Mart van Wyk

Additional supervisor 1

Victoria Graham

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Social Sciences (Monash Africa)


Master of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location

South Africa


Faculty of Arts