If Russia vetoes a Security Council resolution on Syria, then what? — Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update # 64 (July 17)

We are at a potential decision point on Syria. A draft resolution presented by France, the U.K., the United States and Germany, extending the UNSMIS observer mission for 45 days and calling for sanctions under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter if al-Assad does not withdraw his heavy weapons from towns within ten days, appears headed for an up or down vote.

See Ruth Sherlock (Beirut) and Adrian Blomfield (Middle East Correspondent), “Syrian rebels launch campaign to ‘liberate’ Damascus; Syrian rebel commanders on Tuesday night claimed to have launched a military campaign to “liberate” Damascus as the city echoed to the sound of gunfire for a third day and fighting came close to the country’s parliament building,” The Telegraph, July 17, 2012.

Alex Spillius (Diplomatic Correspondent), “Syria United Nations vote delayed; A crucial vote on Syria at the United Nations has been delayed as Western countries make a last ditch bid to persuade Russia to threaten Bashar al-Assad with tough sanctions,” The Telegraph, July 17, 2012.

Russia has said it will block the resolution.

It may well do so, as President Putin proceeds to ride the Bashar al-Assad regime down to flaming defeat, helping to set a template in the Arab world in which Russians will be viewed as the enemies of the Arab Spring and all it stands for, for generations.

It is absolutely important that the sponsors of the resolution not back down, and not cave in to Russia’s demand for an extension of UNSMIS and Kofi Annan’s mission with no consequences for al-Assad if he displays continued defiance.

Over 10,000 people have been killed since Russia and China vetoed a relatively bland draft resolution on February 4, 2012. Weakening the current draft resolution to get Russia and China on board should not be done if they are only to board a still-sinking ship.

Another toothless resolution will, like the last five months of Security Council paralysis and illusions, serve no purpose other than allowing thousands more to die.

Should the Russians (one almost writes “Soviets”) veto the resolution, what should its proponents and supporters then do?

The Observer offers the following suggestions:

1.  Let UNMIS lapse.

It is not capable of providing widespread observation of what is going on in Syria, due to its limited numbers, the government’s ability to control its movements, and its inability to operate to monitor a truce when there is no truce but rather a raging civil war–when it has been targeted and fired upon repeatedly and subjected to the actions of hostile mobs orchestrated by al-Asad.

2.  Do not extend or expand Kofi Annan’s mandate as Joint Special Envoy.

The Arab League should speak to the members of the Security Council, the General Assembly, and the civilized nations of the world with its own voice.  It should not surrender its role in history, for another day, to Kofi Annan or anyone else.  The Arab states need a voice, and have much to bring to the table.  They cannot do this with Annan speaking for them.

The sooner Kofi Annan is shown the exit, the better.  His mega-personality and vainglorious view of himself sucks up all of the attention of the world’s media, drowning out other potentially constructive voices as well as those of witnesses to the atrocities al-Assad is committing–every day.

If his mission is to continue at all, it should be conditioned on his not speaking to the press or the media.

If it continues, his mission should be a silent one.  Let him mediate and report to the Security Council, without manipulating world opinion at every step of the way for the benefit, as it turns out, of the Russians and the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Let his efforts to build another bureaucratic empire in Geneva for himself, as a kind of second Secretary General’s office, lapse when the funding lapses, or sooner if a method can be found to halt this boondoggle.

Send Kofi Annan home.  His efforts as a mediator have produced nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

3.  Let attention turn away from the Security Council, where effective action is blocked by Russia.  Develop and pursue alternative strategies outside of the framework of the Security Council.

4.  Such alternate strategies should include, as a high priority, the formulation of an economic aid package, including humanitarian assistance, which the civilized countries of the world will provide to the people of Syria, once the leaders currently committing atrocities have been removed from the scene.

These leaders should be brought to justice, whether sooner or later–whether through a referral to the International Criminal Court, prosecution within Syria in the future, or through prosecution in individual countries exercising “universal jurisisdiction” over international crimes, in accordance with their own domestic legislation.

5.  A second alternate strategy would be to begin developing a “truth and reconciliation process” which may offer some prospect to soldiers and even officers that, in exchange for full cooperation with a “truth and reconciliation commission” and admission of their wrongful actions, they might be pardoned or receive lighter punishments than would otherwise be possible.

This effort (including both points 4 and 5) could be pursued within and with the support of the United Nations General Assembly. Detailed plans and sequences could be developed, with pledges of financial support from different countries–and other institutions. The idea would be to develop a concrete vision of the reconstruction of Syria, including sources of funding and specific measures to revive the economy. As this vision including the corresponding pledges of financial support takes shape, it is likely to become an attractive alternative to the al-Bashar regime, which promises only destruction and ruin.

It will be useful to shift the world’s attention, and that of those caught up in the struggle in Syria, to the future–to a future which lies on a path leading to atonement and reconciliation.

Somehow, some day, the Syria which Bashar al-Assad has done so much to destroy will have to be put back together, and rebuilt–both in material and in human terms  It is not too early to focus on this aspect–the construction of the future.

Thinking about the construction of the future, and taking concrete steps towards its realization, may in fact serve as critically important means of moving forward through and beyond the terrible present.

Of course, miltary action may at some point also be required, e.g. if al-Assad were to start using chemical weapons or other WMD–or to start selling such weapons to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It is also possible that once outside countries focus on the realities of Syria and its risks, instead of the illusions and castles in the sky generated by Kofi Annan, they may decide to use military force to halt the killing and to organize an orderly transition–with or without Security Council authorization.

The Trenchant Observer

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About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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