Is the UN Impotent to Act on Syria?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is believed to be responsible for the deaths of over 1,300 civilians since anti-regime protests began in March.

The news from Syria is growing more ominous by the day, with reports of continued bloody crackdowns on protesters, troops marching north for a major offensive, refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey, and the apparent use of Palestinians as cannon fodder against Israel as a diversionary tactic. 

Meanwhile, the United Nations appears unable to take even modest steps to address the situation.  Since Russia is a strong ally of Syria and is one of five countries (along with the U.S., Britain, France, and China) to possess veto power on the UN Security Council, it is widely believed that Russia would veto any resolution calling for economic sanctions or military force against Syria.  Russia, China, and other Security Council members also believe that the U.S., France, and Britain have  moved well beyond the UN mandate to protect civilians in Libya and are now seeking regime change.  They oppose any condemnation of Syria that might open the door to another Libya-type intervention.  Thus, French and British UN representatives have carefully worded their draft resolution on Syria to remove any potentially objectionable mention of sanctions or threats of intervention.  In short, the resolution condemns Syria’s crackdown but contains no “teeth.”  It is therefore unlikely to have any effect on the ground in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad, like his father before him, is determined to crush any opposition that threatens his grip on power. 

Is the UN Security Council, with its veto powers bestowed on the “Big 5” victors from World War II, a relic of a bygone era that needs to be ditched or dramatically reformed?  After all, we’ve seen this deadlock all too frequently before, with Russia and China blocking action on Kosovo and Darfur, and the U.S. vetoing any resolution that condemns Israel’s behavior.  Will the UN stand by as a massacre unfolds in Syria?  Does any global organization whose structure prevents it from acting against such atrocities deserve to call itself a protector of international peace and security?  Does it even deserve to exist?

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3 responses to “Is the UN Impotent to Act on Syria?

  1. Pingback: Accountability is for Babies: The ICC in Syria « بنسبة لنا

  2. Pingback: Accountability or Peace: The ICC in Syria « بنسبة لنا

  3. The UNSC is certainly an unfair “relic of a bygone era.” That does not really come into play in Syria, though. The lack of a UN resolution authorizing intervention in Syria is not a sign of division within the UNSC, but a lack of political will from around the world. Embroiled in Libya, the US and Europe certainly do not want/cannot take on another military intervention. UN authorized sanctions could help, but are unlikely to cause an end to either the violence or the regime (the use of sanctions as a punishment is a highly questionable tactic.)

    Overall the international community has little ability to influence the situation in Syria. The best hope is to try to arrange a situation in which Assad will voluntarily step down.

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