Albania refuses to destroy Syrian chemical weapons: who will take responsibility?

After facing strong protests, Prime Minister Edi Rama declared that he will not permit the destruction of chemical weapons to take place in Albania. An accountability issue that should not be underestimated by the international organizations arranging the operation.

Which government will take the responsibility of bringing such dangerous items into its own country? Quite a good question for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, leading the destruction of Bashar al-Assad arsenal. When on November 15 the organisation explained the plan, the first step was transferring the weapons out of the territory, far from each actor trying to use them. As explained by its General Director, Ahmet Ümzücü, the strategy was ambitious: it could have meant the birth of a practical protocol that could be used to remove resources from war criminal acting in a conflict. However, what both Chiefs of State and International Organisations cannot understand is that each promise means deep consequences for entire populations.

That is why, when Albanian PM Edi Rama refused to accept Syrian Chemical Weapons inside his country, a serious break originated. For Olivier Lepic, interviewed by RTBF, actors involved in discussion shortened the time as much as possible. According to Lepic: “The modality of destruction will be under discussion for a long time, before achieving an effective action”. Consequently, the problem involving international organisations would be an excess of enthusiasm. This is highly unlikely to be true. Two interlinked elements act in order to curb the process: the lack of accountability of Governments and the lack of reciprocal trust. When the United States asked FranceBelgium and Albania to work on destruction of weapons in their territory, a strong protest rose from Albanian citizens: they took to the streets to say “no”. The answer given by the PM suggests the difficulty of finding a balance between electorate and allies: “With complete loyalty to Albania, and the great respect for our important friends and partners, my decision is that it is impossible for Albania to be included in this operation”.

Then Rama added that Albania lacks the capacity to complete the task. This could be true, but it is obviously far from being the main reason why he declined the offer. The fear of being treated as a garbage dump is still strong: during protests in Albania a man wrote on a placard: “USA: Albania is not rubbish” (here, min 0:26). The lack of communication among governments led to this: Albanians feel as though they were being treated like wretches without the right to speak. However, the PM very well knows how the alignment of Albania to NATO lies on the delicate trust bond born after the fall of Hoxha‘s communist regime, in 1985. Even the words of US State Departments spokeswoman Jen Psaki look more like a way to temporize: “We appreciate Albania considering, looking seriously at hosting the destruction of chemical weapons”. Despite kindness, the US diplomatic staff must be surely furious. But a strong international community cannot be built on meeting desks, it must be brought also on the streets.

To ensure a successful approach to weapons destruction, the international community needs time, but most of all cooperation among governments and between governments and citizens. Albanian government tried to open a dialogue with its population, obtaining a partial success, as reported by East Journal. The strength of this bond must be really strict, however, if we consider what Lepic underlined on RTBF: “We can easily imagine what people in France, Belgium or Albania could think about the idea of seeing a boat filled with neurotoxic organospheres popping up in front of one of their ports”. We can also imagine how much trust people need not to feel cheated for having the role of “weapons destroyer” while other countries raise money by selling them. Albanians did not trust other governments. If nothing changes, who will?

Photo: US Government/Wikimedia

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