The Corner

The Syria U.N. Resolution: Toothless and Unfocused

Earlier today, the U.S. and Russia released the draft of their jointly proposed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria and outlining steps to secure and ultimately destroy all chemical weapons in Syria. The draft resolution suffers from two major shortcomings. The first: It fails to establish a direct enforcement mechanism for assuring the complete application of Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) requirements in Syria, which includes not using chemical weapons, not developing such weapons, and eliminating the existing stockpile. This failure renders the resolution toothless. The second issue is that resolution carefully avoids identifying the Assad regime as the culprit in the use of chemical weapons, most recently on August 21.

Regarding the lack of a direct enforcement mechanism, Paragraph 21 of the draft resolution states that in the event of non-compliance with its terms, that the Security Council will impose undefined measures under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. While these measures could include sanctions and even the use of military force against the violators, this will require adoption of an additional resolution by the Security Council. Under this circumstance, Russia will be free to use or threaten to use its veto to block imposition of effective measures, as it has done repeatedly over the past two years.  Russia has made it clear from the outset of the diplomatic process that produced this draft resolution that it is strongly opposed to applying strong sanctions, much less using military force in Syria.

The draft resolution is scrupulous in constructing of moral equivalency between the Assad regime and the rebel forces regarding the use of chemical weapons. This is done throughout the text of the resolution, but it’s the same Paragraph 21 on enforcement that makes the application of the standard of moral equivalency crystal clear. The article states that future measures regarding non-compliance with the resolution are applicable toward “anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic.” The Security Council, if it adopts this draft, will refuse to identify the Assad regime as the party responsible for the use of chemical arms. This  unwillingness to identify the culprit necessarily puts the Security Council in a position of weakness with vis-à-vis the Assad regime and conveys the message that victims of the chemical attacks are of equivalent standing to the perpetrators. Worse, this failure serves as an open invitation to Russia to blame any future used of chemical weapons in Syria on the rebels. 

And even worse, the whole resolution puts the Security Council in the position, because of Russia’s insistence, of becoming the partner and guarantor of the survival of the Assad regime. This can only serve to undermine and demoralize the opposition to Assad within Syria.

Unfortunately, the draft resolution is a charade designed to give the Obama administration political cover for its bungling on Syria. It is possible that Assad could cooperate and surrender and destroy his chemical weapons, but the draft resolution has no ability to compel such cooperation. In fact, it allows Assad to benefit in the aftermath of his use of chemical weapons while demoralizing the rebel opposition, which now questions U.S. support. 

— Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs and Baker Spring is the F. M. Kirby Fellow in National Security Policy at the Heritage Foundation.

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