Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

Munich II: The meeting in Geneva between the U.S., the EU, the Ukraine and Russia

Friday, April 11th, 2014

It is a very bad idea for the U.S. and the EU to meet with Russia on April 17 to discuss the Ukraine’s fate, even with the Ukraine also participating.

Under international law, Russia has no right to make demands about the internal constitutional arrangements of another sovereign state. The U.S. and the EU likewise seem to have forgotten that since the Yalta conference decided the fate of European countries as World War II was still raging, the United Nations Charter was adopted in December of 1945, and for nearly 70 years international law and legal institutions have progressively developed to govern world affairs, from arms control agreements to the regulation of trade through the World Trade Organization.

To sit down with the aggressor which has invaded and annexed the Crimea, and which has 40,000 combat-ready troops on the border poised to invade eastern Ukraine, is the height of folly. It is like going to negotiate with a criminal over illegal demands when the criminal has a gun pointed at your head.

The incompetence of the Obama administration in foreign policy seems to have no limits, as does that of the Europeans and NATO.

The meeting should be called off, period.

Certainly it should be called off if the 40,000 troops on the Russian border with Ukraine are not withdrawn prior to the meeting.

In 1938, Great Britain and France sold Czechoslovakia down the river at Munich, after earlier urging Czechoslovakia to enter into mediation with Germany. That deal was consummated on September 30, 1938, at the Munich conference. The meeting in Geneva on April 17 risks becoming the opening stage of a Munich II settlement, bringing once again “peace in our time”–but war looming far into our future.

When this riff of incompetence, pacifism and appeasement is over, the world will be a much more dangerous place.

National budgets will divert monies from health and education to defense. Nuclear arms will proliferate among a number of countries, from Saudi Arabia to Japan, as well as Iran. Instead of international order and striving to maintain international peace and security in the world, as mandated by the U.N. Charter, nations will increasingly look to weapons and armies which will have a growing voice in determining national boundaries, and the outcome of territorial disputes (e.g., as between Japan, China, Korea and nations in the South China Sea).

Nations may no longer feel bound to abide by the international law provisions that establish order in the world in matters of trade, finance, and international security.

The tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. The mere fact that the West has agreed to this ill-conceived conference in Geneva to resolve “the Ukrainian crisis” suggests that that the likelihood of resisting appeasement and upholding international norms against military aggression and annexation of the territory of another sovereign nation is subject to the most serious doubt.

What should be done?

The West should adopt strong economic sanctions before any meeting with Russia, both to punish Russia for threatening further aggression, and to create very powerful pressures on Russia to return the Crimea, restoring matters in the Crimea to the status quo ante, prior to the Russian invasion and annexation.

And if the Russians don’t withdraw their combat-ready forces from the border region, the meeting should simply be called off.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

The language of actions: Russia, the Ukraine, and the response of the West

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

According to NATO, Russia has 35,000 to 40,000 combat-ready troops on its border with the Ukraine, which could be launched into action on as little as 12 hours.

See:

“UKRAINE: Russische Soldaten laut Nato sofort einsatzbereit; Die Nato spricht von ungewöhnlichen Vorgängen an der russisch-ukrainischen Grenze; Das westliche Militärbündnis zählt bis zu 40.000 Soldaten in dem Grenzgebiet,” Die Zeit, 10. April 2014 (17:28 Uhr).

“UKRAINE: Nato fürchtet russischen Einmarsch in die Ukraine; Russische Truppen sind an der ukrainischen Grenze stationiert; In wenigen Tagen könnten sie laut Nato alle Ziele im Nachbarland erreichen; Die Lage sei besorgniserregend,” Die Zeit, 2. April 2014 (16:04 Uhr).

These are Russian actions which deserve urgent attention.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reassured Secretary of State John Kerry and others in the West that Russia will respect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. These are Russian words, the same ones he used days before the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reassured German Chancellor Merkel that Russian troops would be withdrawn from the border. These are Russian words. The troops have not been withdrawn.

We should not place any trust in these words, which come from known liars. We should not trust either Putin or Lavrov, or anything either of them says. They have been telling blatant lies as part of the Russian propaganda campaign, and have lied directly both to John Kerry and to Angela Merkel.

As the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the Ukraine prepare to meet on April 18, Western leaders and everyone else needs to understand that the only language of genuine communication between Russia and the West is now the language of actions. Consequently, they should go to the meeting with new actions that have already been taken, and which they can use to communicate with the Russians.

Russian Actions

So far, Russian actions include:

1) The invasion and annexation of the Crimea;

2) The infiltration of agents provacateurs into the eastern Ukraine to foment disturbances;

3) Demands that the Ukraine meet Russian demands for Ukrainian constitutional reforms granting greater regional autonomy to Russian-speaking regions, backed by the palpable threat of military intervention represented by invasion-ready military forces on the border;

4) An increase in gas prices to some $100.00 above market prices, on top of an increase that wipes out the concessionary price established in international agreements which extended Russia’s lease on naval facilities in Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based.

In addition, Russia has demanded payment of an additional $11 billion dollars as repayment for concessionary price discounts since the lease agreements were signed in 2010, on the theory that since the Ukraine is part of Russia these lease agreements and concessionary gas price agreements are void; and

5) Russia has now demanded payment one month in advance for future gas deliveries to the Ukraine, and threatens to halt deliveries if payment is not made.

Western Actions

So far, Western Actions have included:

1) The imposition of targeted sanctions on less than three dozen individuals from Russia, the Crimea, and the Ukraine, and one Russian bank;

2) Development of lists of additional or “stage-three” sanctions which might be imposed (e.g., if Russia invades the eastern Ukraine), including trade, financial and other sanctions which could have a very serious impact on Russia (as well as Western countries);

2) The commitment of financial assistance to the Ukraine from the EU, the U.S. ($1 billion), and the International Monetary Fund ($15 billion, contingent on financial reforms in Ukraine);

3) Deployment of additional surveillance and fighter aircraft to NATO members Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia; and

4) The scheduling of additional NATO military maneuvers in eastern NATO member states; and

5) The dispatch of 100 OSCE observers to the Ukraine, which German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is now pushing to increase to 500 observers, in compliance with an earlier OSCE decision to which Russia agreed.

Absence of Strategy and Sanctions to Compel Russia to Return the Crimea

The West has failed to adopt any sanctions or other measures designed to force Russia to undo its invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

Ominously, officials in both the U.S. and the EU, have hinted they might be prepared to continue doing business with Russia so long as it doesn’t commit further aggression by invading the eastern Ukraine, leaving it in possession of the Crimea with little more than verbal and diplomatic protests from the West.

The loudest “action” by the West with respect to undoing the invasion and annexation of the Crimea has been a failure to act. The “slap on the wrist” measures of the first- and second-round sanctions cannot be taken seriously as measures to produce a rollback.

The West has failed to adopt the extremely obvious economic sanction of prohibiting financial or other business transactions with any company operating in or doing business with the Crimea (corrected).

Actions Going Forward

Decision makers in the diplomats’ meeting with the Russians on April 18 need to communicate with Russia in the language of actions, not merely the verbal formulations of diplomacy, which insofar as Russia is concerned have neglible effect. All the diplomatic words and entreaties, and telephone calls to Putin and Lavrov, do not appear to have affected the language of actions which Russia is speaking.

Russia speaks in actions from a strong position, having invaded and annexed part of another country, in open violation of the most fundamental norms of the U.N. Charter, international law, and the postwar political, economic, and legal order.

Will the West’s responses, in the language of actions, be up to the task of halting and rolling back Russian aggression, and its ill-gotten gains?

If we connect the dots, and take note of the fact that Japan has in the last day reversed its policy of reducing its plutonium stocks–whether by coincidence or not–we can glimpse in an instant how critical the answer to the preceding question may be.

See Hiroko Tabuchi, “Japan Pushes Plan to Stockpile Plutonium, Despite Proliferation Risks,” New York Times, April 9, 2014.

Helene Cooper and Martin Fackle, “U.S. Response to Crimea Worries Japan’s Leaders,”
New York Times, April 5, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

February 22, 2014: U.N. Security Council unanimously approves Resolution 2139 (2014) on humanitarian access in Syria (with full text of Resolution)

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

“Unanimously approved, Security Council resolution demands aid access in Syria,” U.N. News Centre, February 22, 2014

For the text of the resolution, and statements by delegations, see the Security Council Press Release, U.N. doc. SC/11292, February 22, 2014.

The full text of the Resolution itself follows:

U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139 (2014)

“The Security Council,

“Recalling its resolutions 2042 (2012), 2043 (2012) and 2118 (2013), and its presidential statements of 3 August 2011, 21 March 2012, 5 April 2012 and 2 October 2013,

“Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

“Being appalled at the unacceptable and escalating level of violence and the death of well over 100,000 people in Syria, including over 10,000 children, as reported by the UN Secretary-General and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict,

“Expressing grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, in particular the dire situation of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in besieged areas, most of whom are besieged by the Syrian armed forces and some by opposition groups, as well as the dire situation of over 3 million people in hard-to-reach areas, and deploring the difficulties in providing, and the failure to provide, access for the humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need inside Syria,

“Emphasizing the need to respect the UN guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance and stressing the importance of such assistance being delivered on the basis of need, devoid of any political prejudices and aims, commending the efforts of the United Nations and all humanitarian and medical personnel in Syria and in neighbouring countries, and condemning all acts or threats of violence against United Nations staff and humanitarian actors, which have resulted in the death, injury and detention of many humanitarian personnel,

“Expressing grave concern at the increasing number of refugees and internally displaced persons caused by the conflict in Syria, which has a destabilising impact on the entire region, and underscoring its appreciation for the significant and admirable efforts that have been made by the countries of the region, notably Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, to accommodate the more than 2.4 million refugees who have fled Syria as a result of the on-going violence, while acknowledging the enormous political, socioeconomic and financial impact of the presence of large-scale populations in these countries, and underscoring the need for all parties to respect and maintain the security and civilian character of camps for refugees and internally displaced persons,

“Welcoming the pledges totalling $2.5 billion at the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, hosted by Kuwait on 15 January 2014, and expressing its appreciation to Member States and regional and subregional organizations that have pledged to provide humanitarian assistance to people in need in all parts of Syria, including internally displaced persons, as well as to refugees in neighbouring host countries, and calling on all Member States to ensure the timely disbursement of pledges and continued support in line with growing humanitarian needs,

“Calling on all parties to immediately end all violence which has led to human suffering in Syria, save Syria’s rich societal mosaic and cultural heritage, and take appropriate steps to ensure the protection of Syria’s World Heritage Sites,

“Strongly condemning the increased terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties and destruction carried out by organizations and individuals associated with Al-Qaida, its affiliates and other terrorist groups, and reiterating its call on all parties to commit to putting an end to terrorist acts perpetrated by such organizations and individuals, while reaffirming that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed,

“Expressing its regret that its presidential statement of 2 October 2013 (S/PRST/2013/15) has not delivered as expected and has not yet translated into meaningful progress on the ground, and that humanitarian aid delivery continues to be impeded throughout Syria, while condemning all cases of denial of humanitarian access and recalling that arbitrary denial of humanitarian access and depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival, including wilfully impeding relief supply and access, can constitute a violation of international humanitarian law,

“Emphasizing that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate in the absence of a political solution to the crisis, reiterating its endorsement of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012 (Annex II of Resolution 2118 (2113)) and demanding that all parties work towards the immediate and comprehensive implementation of the Geneva Communiqué aimed at bringing an immediate end to all violence, violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international law, and facilitating the Syrian-led political process launched in Montreux on 22 January 2014, leading to a transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and enables them independently and democratically to determine their own future,

“1. Strongly condemns the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities, as well as the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by armed groups, including all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as all grave violations and abuses committed against children in contravention of applicable international law, such as recruitment and use, killing and maiming, rape, attacks on schools and hospitals as well as arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, ill treatment and use as human shields, as described in the United Nations Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Syria (S/2014/31);

“2. Demands that all parties immediately put an end to all forms of violence, irrespective of where it comes from, cease and desist from all violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights, and reaffirm their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and stresses that some of these violations may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity;

“3. Demands that all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs, and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, and recalls in this regard the obligation to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law in all circumstances, and further recalls, in particular, the obligation to distinguish between civilian populations and combatants, and the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks, and attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such;

“4. Demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, fully implement the provisions of the 2 October 2013 statement by the President of the Security Council (S/PRST/2013/15) including through facilitating the expansion of humanitarian relief operations, in accordance with applicable provisions of international humanitarian law and the UN guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance;

“5. Calls upon all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas, including in the Old City of Homs (Homs), Nubl and Zahra (Aleppo), Madamiyet Elsham (Rural Damascus), Yarmouk (Damascus), Eastern Ghouta (Rural Damascus), Darayya (Rural Damascus) and other locations, and demands that all parties allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance, cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival, and enable the rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave, and underscores the need for the parties to agree on humanitarian pauses, days of tranquillity, localised cease-fires and truces to allow humanitarian agencies safe and unhindered access to all affected areas in Syria, recalling that starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited by international humanitarian law;

“6. Demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders, in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need through the most direct routes;

“7. Urges all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, to take all appropriate steps to facilitate the efforts of the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and all humanitarian actors engaged in humanitarian relief activities, to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the affected people in Syria, including by promptly facilitating safe and unhindered humanitarian access to populations in need of assistance in all areas under their control, and encourages further cooperation between the United Nations, its specialized agencies and all parties concerned, including Syrian civil society organisations, to facilitate access and the delivery of assistance in the entirety of the Syrian territory;

“8. Demands that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality and facilitate free passage to all areas for medical personnel, equipment, transport and supplies, including surgical items, and recalls that under international humanitarian law, the wounded and sick must receive, to the fullest extent practicable, and with the least possible delay, medical care and attention required by their condition and that medical and humanitarian personnel, facilities and transport must be respected and protected, and expresses grave concern in this regard at the removal of medical supplies from humanitarian shipments;

“9. Also demands that all parties take all appropriate steps to protect civilians, including members of ethnic, religious and confessional communities, and stresses that, in this regard, the primary responsibility to protect its population lies with the Syrian authorities;

“10. Further demands that all parties demilitarize medical facilities, schools and other civilian facilities and avoid establishing military positions in populated areas and desist from attacks directed against civilian objects;

“11. Strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and torture of civilians in Syria, notably in prisons and detention facilities, as well as the kidnappings, abductions and forced disappearances, and demands the immediate end of these practices and the release of all arbitrarily detained persons starting with women and children, as well as sick, wounded and elderly people and including UN personnel and journalists;

“12. Urges all parties to take all appropriate steps to ensure the safety and security of United Nations personnel, those of its specialized agencies, and all other personnel engaged in humanitarian relief activities, without prejudice to their freedom of movement and access, stresses that the primary responsibility in this regard lies with the Syrian authorities and further stresses the need not to impede these efforts;

“13. Stresses the need to end impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights, and reaffirms that those who have committed or are otherwise responsible for such violations and abuses in Syria must be brought to justice;

“14. Strongly condemns the increased terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties and destruction carried out by organisations and individuals associated with Al-Qaida, its affiliates and other terrorist groups, urges the opposition groups to maintain their rejection of these organizations and individuals which are responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law in opposition-held areas, calls upon the Syrian authorities and opposition groups to commit to combating and defeating organizations and individuals associated with Al-Qaida, its affiliates and other terrorist groups, demands that all foreign fighters immediately withdraw from Syria, and reaffirms that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed;

“15. Emphasizes that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate in the absence of a political solution, welcomes in this regard the Geneva Conference on Syria launched in Montreux on 22 January 2014, and demands that all parties work towards the comprehensive implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012 leading to a genuine political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and enables them independently and democratically to determine their own future, and further stresses that rapid progress on a political solution should include full participation by all groups and segments of Syrian society, including women, and represents the only sustainable opportunity to resolve the situation in Syria peacefully, and that the implementation of this resolution is key to meeting the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people;

“16. Urges all Member States to contribute or increase their support to the United Nations’ humanitarian appeals to meet the spiralling needs of people affected by the crisis, and to provide this support in coordination with the relevant United Nations agencies, and to ensure that all pledges are honoured in full, and further urges all Member States, based on burden sharing principles, to support the neighbouring host countries to enable them to respond to the growing humanitarian needs, including by providing direct support;

“17. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the implementation of this resolution by all parties in Syria, in particular paragraphs 2 through 12, in 30 days of its adoption and every 30 days thereafter, and upon receipt of the Secretary-General’s report, expresses its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution;

“18. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”

The Trenchant Observer

Western diplomats stumble in the Ukraine—-Stop telephone diplomacy, let Germany lead, and publish serious international law memoranda

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Updated March 7, 2014

Western leaders have made three major blunders since the Russian military takeover of the Crimea first began on or around February 25.

Telephone Calls to Putin

First, they have engaged in a series of telephone calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Obama’s calls to Putin, who is reliably reported to detest him, have had no positive effect and may well have stiffened his resistance to the conciliatory proposals from the West. Even Angela Merkel’s calls directly to Putin have probably been ill-advised.

Such calls may in some circumstances be useful if their occurrence and content is kept private. While they may satisfy a hunger for instant gratification in the age of the Internet, decisions to deploy tanks and military ships are not likely to be reversed by e-mails or telephone calls, which between heads of government are probably heavily scripted, and further distorted by the use of interpreters.

Moreover, formal written communications have the advantage of permitting a wider range of officials with different perspectives to participate in their review and offering suggestions for response. Both with Putin and with Obama, and probably other government leaders as well, the quality of the exchange is likely to be improved by wider internal review and additional time to formulate policy and decisions.

On the Charlie Rose show on March 5, Henry Kissinger provided a powerful explanation of why direct communications between heads of government is usually a poor idea. This seems to be all the more true in a crisis like the one in the Ukraine, folllowing Russian military intervention in the Crimea, which remains under Russian military control and occupation.

Today, again, we learn that Obama called Putin and during a substantive call made no progress.

See “Ukraine-Krise: Putin bleibt hart in Telefonat mit Obama; Eine Stunde lang haben Putin und Obama die Lage auf der Krim beredet. Doch an dem Kurs des russischen Präsidenten hat das nichts geändert – er sagt: Russland dürfe die Hilferufe aus der Ukraine nicht ignorieren,” Der Spiegel, 7. Marz 2014 (6:45)

Generally, particularly in the case of Obama, such telephone calls and background briefings on their content are used as part of a campaign to show others Obama is doing something and Putin is being unreasonable.

Urgent Advice: Take the telephone away from Obama. He has not charmed or persuaded Putin, and he isn’t going to.

(Quote from Kissinger)

Trying to Force the Russians to meet with Ukrainian Officials

The second mistake Western diplomats have made in recent days is to try to force the Russians to sit down at the same table and talk to representatives from the new government in Kiev. This has been a huge blunder, confusing the goals of process with those of substance. The substantive but secondary goal is to get Russia to recognize the government in Kiev. The primary goal should be to persuade the Russians to cease and desist from further provocative actions in the Crimea and in the Eastern Ukraine, whether executed directly by Russians or Russian-speaking supporters. Such actions could–whether by design or inadvertence–ignite the flames of war.

In short, the highest substantive goal in the next few days should be to halt the Russians’ provocations and inflamation of passions. The second substantive goal should be to obtain formal Russian acceptance of OSCE and other observers, and to provide formal guarantees of their physical safety.

The ill-advised efforts to force the Russians to talk to the Ukranians before the stage is set, and the Russians want to, only aggravates the circumstances in which substantive diplomatic activity can take place.

These attempts to force the Russians to talk to the Ukranians reflect the same demented logic according to which simply getting the al-Assad goverment to meet with the opposition at the Geneva II Conference in June would somehow produce a miraculous breakthrough. It didn’t, and it was foolish to think that it could.

American Efforts to Assert its Leadership in Rsponding to Russia

The third development, unfortunate in the extreme, is that the United States is now seeking the mantle of leadership of the West in relations with Russia in connection with the crisis.

American policy in the Ukraine has not been an unqualified success, with Victoria Nuland’s “F… the EU” cell phone call revealing both deep American involvement with the opposition and disdain for EU leaders and their efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

And it hasn’t stopped. Only days sgo, a high U.S. official (a woman) was quoted on background in the German press as being highly critical of Angela Merkel, who was far too slow and deliberative in this official’s view. Such American officials do not understand the requirements of diplomacy, and should be immediately removed from the policy making process.

On March 7, 2014, on the Charlie Rose show, Tom Donilon, the former National Security adviser, stressed the importance now of the United States’ reasserting its leadership of the West.

The problem here is that Obama and his foreign policy team have been largely incompetent in dealing with the most urgent foreign policy questions of the last five years. While John Kerry has his strengths (and weaknesses), and Samantha Power provides capable and clear-eyed leadership as Ambassador to the U.N., Obama continues to maintain tight White House control over the making and execution of foreign policy. We and the world, looking at the cumulative evidence, know he is not very good at it. For example, Angela Merkel shared with Obama her perception from talking to Vladimir Putin on the phone that he was “in another world”. Obama promptly leaked this quote to the world, which was probably not helpful in terms of influencing Putin.

With respect to the Ukraine, Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia undid the measures George W. Bush had implemented to punish Russia for its military intervention in Georgia–without any change in Russian behavior or resolution of the issues in Georgia, where Russian troops remain in enclaves in what amounts to de facto recognition of the fruits of Russian aggression.

Moreover, if Obama had not blinked at the moment of truth when he needed to pull the trigger to launch missiles against Syria, following the use of chemical weapons by Syria at Ghouta on August 21, 2014, Putin in his calculations might have taken the U.S. more seriously and never launched his military takeover of the Crimea.

The Observer’s advice is, “If you’re going to drive from behind (or slumber in the back seat), stay in the back seat and let others who know how to drive drive the car.”

Only two and a half weeks ago, the German, Polish and French foreign ministers hammered out a transition agreement whereby Yanukovych would yield partial power to a transitional government. To be sure, the deal fell apart when the Ukrainian negotiators could not deliver the crowd at the Maidan, the regime collapsed, the parliament relieved the president of his office, and the latter fled first Kiev and then the country. Still, the agreement was a brilliant piece of statecraft.

In the present situation, Obama is in no position to give Vladimir Putin lectures on international law, a concept which the president has only recently introduced into his discourse. Obama’s failure to prosecute officials responsible for torture as required by the U.N. Convention against Torture, his continuing use of drone strikes frequently in apparent violation of international law (particularly outside the war theater of Afghanistan and Pakistan), the continued detention without trial of prisoners at Guantanamo, and NSA’s massive surveillance around the world in violation of constitutions and international law, all strongly suggest Obama is not the best leader to take the lead in the media in making the legal case against Russia.

The U.S. also has a troubled record of its own interventions, including those in the Dominican Republic (1965) and Grenada (1983) which were justified, at least in part, under the rubric of “intervention to protect nationals”.

Germany is a better choice. The U.S. can take the lead with France and Britain in the Security Council.

That is not to say the U.S. in the U.N. and elsewhere should not make the strongest possible legal arguments against the Russian military intervention, in writing. It only means that the U.S. should carefully coordinate its efforts with the Europeans, and avoid undercutting Angela Merkel’s leadership, in the media.

This is not a time for a lot of wordsmithing and speeches and statements by Barack Obama and his administration. The focus, instead, should be on presenting serious and detailed legal memoranda in relevant forums, and on taking concrete actions such as imposing sanctions with real teeth on Russia and Russians.

Consideration should also be given to imposing EU and U.S. travel bans, and more, on individuals in the Crimea who have actively collaborated with Moscow in its military takeover, and who have joined efforts to provoke a secession from Ukraine and annexation of the peninsula by Russia.

The U.S. should work to coordinate its actions with the EU, and to persuade EU leaders behind closed doors, but should let Angela Merkel lead and coordinate the European response to Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in the Ukraine. The Germans and the Poles know the Ukraine, and Putin, far better than does the U.S., and should be allowed to lead. Merkel is the most powerful and respected leader in Europe, has an important relationship with Putin, and also has the experience and insights gained from having grown up in East Germany when it was a police state under Soviet domination.

As suggested above, even as Merkel leads, the U.S can push hard on implementing sanctions while still setting forth its international law arguments in written form, presenting them to the Security Council and also publshing them elsewhere.

Summary of Recommendations

In sum, the Observer’s advice is:

1. Stop the telephone diplomacy with Putin.

2. Don’t try to force the Russians to talk to the Ukrainians before the stage is set, and the Russians have assumed a more conciliatory posture as a result of pressure from the EU and the U.S. The Ukraine’s fate will be decided by the major powers, though the actions of the Ukrainian government will have great import. The biggest challenge for the West is to forge unity behind strong positions, avoiding disarray which can only work to Russia’s advantage.

3. Obama should let Germany, and France and Poland, lead. Obama has important cards to play, but he should keep them close to his vest, and not go channeling his thought processes to the press on background or on TV, through Ben Rhodes or other government officials. He should speak instead with actions, as he did today with the announcement of the first sanctions against Russia and Russians, to take immediate effect.

Among the most important of these actions would be to publish serious and detailed legal memoranda rebutting Russian legal justifications and setting out clealy how its military intervention in the Ukraine has violated international law’s most important prohibitions, as well as treaties and agreements such as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence of the Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

(Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Obervateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivio)

Iran, Syria, and the nuclear question

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

(Developing story)

Iran is within reach of achieving an expansion of its influence through solidifying an arc of Shia states or Shia-led states reaching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterrean Sea. Iran, Iraq, Syria under Alawite rule, and a Lebanese state where Hezbollah is the largest party, has its own well-trained and well-armed militia and blocking or veto power over the actions of the government, represent a formidable challenge to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which have significant Shia populations subject to the pull of Iranian influence.

Despite the obvious benefit of removing chemical weapons from Syria and greatly resducing the chances they might fall into the wrong hands, the chemical weapons deal does not signal an advance for U.S. interests in the region, for it leaves al-Assad in power and increasingly dependent on Iranian economic and military support (including troops and commanders), with Hezbollah providing battle-hardened troops from Lebanon to support al-Assad militarily, particularly in decisive battles.

Proponents of a much-touted potential nuclear deal with Iran need to keep these broader considerations in mind. A nuclear deal that doesn’t address the Syrian question or that leaves Iranian nuclear weapons break-out capabilities intact, could prove to be an illusory achievement. In particular, an accord that would allow work on the Awak heavy water reactor to continue during an initial six-month “freeze” on Iran’s nuclear program is viewed by experts as allowing Iran to continue its advance toward achieving a nuclear weapons capability while sanctions are loosened.

Moreover, we must ask what made Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei suddenly become willing to settle the nuclear issue with the group of P5+1, immediately following Obama’s military back-down on Syria and what must have appeared in Tehran as lack of resolve to use military power.

For recent commentary, see:

(1) Jackson Diehl, “John Kerry’s Middle East dream world,” Washinton Post, November 10, 2013.

(2) Raniah Salloum, “Teherans Mann für Syrien: Irans gefährlichster General,” Der Spiegel, 10 November 2013 (17:34 Uhr).

Er ist Teherans Mann für heikle Missionen im Ausland: Kassim Soleimani, Chef der Eliteeinheit al-Kuds. In Afghanistan und im Irak hat er den Amerikanern bereits schwer zu schaffen gemacht. Jetzt soll er Irans Einfluss in Syrien retten.

(3) Julian Borger, “Iran nuclear programme deal in danger of unravelling; US negotiator leaves talks to reassure Israeli prime minister after France sinks bid to seal temporary agreement,” The Guarian, November 10, 2013.

(4) Julian Borger, “Last-minute rethink stalled deal on nuclear Iran; Details have emerged of how talks with Tehran in Geneva broke up at 11th hour after France and US took a robust stance,” The Guardian, November 11, 2013 (13.06 EST).

The Trenchant Observer

U.N. Security Council unanimously adopts Resolution 2118 establishing regime for the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Department of Public Information, News and Media Division (New York), “Security Council requires Scheduled Destruction of Syria’s Chemical Weapons, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2118 (2013), U.N. Doc. SC/111, September 27, 2013.

Resolution 2118 builds on the Russian-U.S. Agreement on Chemical Weapons reached by foreign ministers Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry in Geneva on September 13, 2013.

See Warren Strobel (Geneva), “Kerry-Lavrov rapport smoothed path to Syria deal,” Reuters, September 15, 2013 (1:20 a.m. EDT).

The Press Release contains the full text of the resolution and summaries of the statements made by Members of the Security Council.

The Foreign Ministers of the following members of the Council spoke:

Russian Federation (Sergey Lavrov)*
United States (John Kerry)*
United Kingdom*
Luxembourg
France*
Azerbaijan
Republic of Korea
China*
Guatemala
Morocco
Argentina
Pakistan’s Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Pakistan also addressed the Council.
*Permanent Member

The representatives of Rwanda, Togo and Australia also spoke.

The full text of the press release and Resolution 2118 follow:

 

Press Release

Security Council
SC/11135
September 27, 2013

Department of Public Information, News and Media Division, New York

Security Council requires Scheduled Destruction of Syria’s Chemical Weapons, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2118 (2013)

***

Deeply outraged by the use of chemical weapons on 21 August in a Damascus suburb, as concluded by a United Nations investigation team, the Security Council this evening endorsed the expeditious destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme, with inspections to begin by 1 October, and agreed that in the event of non-compliance, it would impose “Chapter VII” measures.

Unanimously adopting resolution 2118 (2013) in a fast-breaking evening meeting, the Council determined that the use of chemical weapons anywhere constituted a threat to international peace and security, and called for the full implementation of the 27 September decision of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which contains special procedures for the expeditious and verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Specifically, the Council prohibited Syria from using, developing, producing, otherwise acquiring, stockpiling or retaining chemical weapons, or transferring them to other States or non-State actors, and underscored also that no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer such weapons.

Also by the text, Syria should comply with all aspects of the OPCW decision, notably by accepting personnel designated by OPCW or the United Nations and providing them with immediate and unfettered access to — and the right to inspect — any and all chemical weapons sites.

Further, the Council decided to regularly review Syria’s implementation of the OPCW Executive Council decision and the present resolution, requesting the OPCW Director-General, through the Secretary-General, to report to it within 30 days and every month thereafter. Fully endorsing the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012, the Council called for the convening, as soon as possible, of an international conference on Syria to implement that Communiqué.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the resolution’s passage as “the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time”, but said, even amid that important step, “we must never forget that the catalogue of horrors in Syria continues with bombs and tanks, grenades and guns”. He said the plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons was “not a license to kill with conventional weapons”.

Stressing that the perpetrators of the chemical attacks in Syria must be brought to justice, he said a United Nations mission had returned to complete its fact-finding investigation. The team would conclude its work next week and he would promptly transmit a report to all Member States.

He pressed the Council to capitalize on its new-found unity by focusing on two other equally crucial dimensions of the conflict: the dire humanitarian situation and the political crisis. For their parts, the Syrian sides must engage constructively towards the creation of a democratic State, while regional actors must challenge those who sought to undermine that process.

In the debate that followed, Council members praised the text for placing binding obligations on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, requiring it to get rid of its “tools of terror”. United States Secretary of State John Kerry said that that regime bore the burden of meeting the terms of the resolution.

At the same time, Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, emphasized that the responsibility for implementing the resolution did not lay with Syria alone. The text had not been passed under the Charter’s Chapter VII, nor did it allow for coercive measures. It contained requirements for all countries, especially Syria’s neighbours, which must report on moves by non-State actors to secure chemical weapons.

Also speaking in today’s debate were the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, France, Azerbaijan, Republic of Korea, China, Guatemala, Morocco and Argentina, as well as the Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs of Pakistan.

The representatives of Rwanda, Togo and Australia also spoke.

The meeting began at 8:15 p.m. and ended at 9:45 p.m.

 

Background

The Security Council met this evening to consider the situation in Syria.

 

Statements

Describing the resolution just adopted as “historic” and “the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time”, United Nations Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said the international community had given a firm and united response.

Stating that the perpetrators of the chemical attacks in Syria must be brought to justice, he said a United Nations mission had returned to complete its investigation. The team would conclude its fact-finding activities next week and the Secretary-General would promptly transmit a report to all Member States.

Welcoming Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention, he said the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) established ambitious but realistic deadlines for the verified elimination of the programme.

The resolution would ensure that the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme happened as soon as possible and with the utmost transparency, he said, stressing that the cooperation of the Syrian Government and opposition forces would be crucial.

Declaring that a red light for one form of weapons did not mean a green light for others, he said that all violence must end and all guns must fall silent. “We must capitalize on the new-found unity of the Council by focusing on the two other equally crucial dimension of the conflict: the dire humanitarian situation and the political crisis,” he urged.

The text, he noted, also called for an international conference on Syria, which both the Government and the opposition had said they would attend. He said the conference was aimed for mid-November.

No one was naïve to the challenges of ending the conflict peacefully, he said. The Syrian sides must engage constructively towards the creation of a democratic State, while the regional actors must challenge those who actively sought to undermine the process and who did not respect Syria’s sovereignty.

As for the Security Council members, he said that, individually and collectively, they had a key role in ushering the Geneva process forward towards a lasting peaceful solution.

SERGEY LAVROV, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said the resolution was in keeping with the Russian-American agreement. The lead role in the coming work lay with OPCW, which, along with the United Nations experts, would act impartially in Syria in full respect of its sovereignty. He expected the Secretary-General and the OPCW Director-General to closely cooperate in that work. He also expected that the Secretary-General’s recommendations would cover the safety of international personnel.

Noting that Damascus had shown its readiness for cooperation by joining the Chemical Weapons Convention, he said that was a precondition for success. It also had provided a list of its chemical weapons arsenal. Damascus would continue to cooperate with international inspectors. The responsibility for implementing the resolution did not lay only with Syria. He emphasized that the text had not been passed under the Charter’s Chapter VII, nor did it allow coercive measures. Violations of its requirements and use of chemical weapons by anyone must be carefully investigated. The United Nations would stand ready to take action under the Charter’s Chapter VII. Violations must be 100 per cent proven.

The resolution contained requirements for all countries, he said, especially Syria’s neighbours, which must report on moves by non-State actors to secure chemical weapons. All such situations should be considered immediately by the Security Council, as that would help create a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means. The resolution set up a framework for the political settlement of the conflict by backing the convening of an international conference, which he believed could take place as early as mid-November. He also expected the Syrian opposition to state its readiness. The Russian Federation would participate in implementing the chemical disarmament programme and in preparing for the Geneva II conference.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State of the United States, said today’s strong, “precedent-setting” resolution had shown that diplomacy could be so powerful, it could peacefully defuse the worst weapons of war. The text stated that chemical weapons use threatened international peace and security — at any time, under any circumstances. With a single voice, for the first time, binding obligations had been placed on the Assad regime, requiring that it get rid of its tools of terror. The text reflected what the Presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States had set out to do, and more; it sought to eliminate a country’s chemical weapons ability.

He went on to say that those weapons would be destroyed by mid-2014. The resolution also made clear that those responsible for their use must be held accountable. The Council had endorsed the Geneva Communiqué, and it had adopted a legally binding resolution that spelled out in detail what Syria must do to comply with it. It could not accept or reject the inspectors, but must give unfettered access at all sites. “We are here because actions have consequences,” he said.

Progress would be reported to the Council, he said, stressing that non-compliance would lead to the imposition of Chapter VII actions. The Council had shown that “when we put aside politics for the common good, we are still capable of great things”. The Assad regime carried the burden of meeting the terms of the resolution; the world carried the burden of doing what it must to end mass killing by other means — working with the same cooperation that had brought States here today. Countries also must provide humanitarian aid. Only then would the world have fulfilled its duty.

WILLIAM HAGUE, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, said today’s “groundbreaking” text, the first on Syria in 17 months, recognized that any use of chemical weapons posed a threat to international peace and security, thereby establishing an important international norm. It upheld the principle of accountability for the proven use of those weapons, enforced legally binding obligations on Syria to comply with OPCW, and it endorsed the 2012 Geneva Communiqué. If properly implemented, the resolution would prevent a repeat of atrocities carried out on 21 August.

He said the United Kingdom was making a $3 million commitment to the OPCW Syria trust fund and urged all States in a position to do so to contribute likewise. It was vital that the Council build on today’s consensus to progress towards sustainable resolution of the Syrian crisis, first, by achieving a negotiated political transition, with a transitional body formed on the basis of mutual consent. He urged increased efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, for which the United Kingdom, thus far, had provided $800 million. The Council must apply its weight to secure unfettered access to those in need in Syria. With that, he urged redoubled determination to work through the Geneva II process and secure a better future for Syria.

JEAN ASSELBORN, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, said the resolution contained robust and legally binding obligations, with which Syria must fully comply. One of the most significant chemical weapons programmes had been addressed through peaceful means. Recounting the horrific images emerging from that country, he said it was important that those never be reproduced. “For the first time, the Security Council has determined chemical weapons use is a threat to international peace.”

Urging the Syrian Government to respect the aspirations of all Syrians, he called upon all parties to take advantage of the positive dynamics, adding that any delay would lead to more death and more destruction. The world could not forget the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and its neighbours. In that connection, he urged Syria to grant free and unfettered access and lift bureaucratic obstacles. “Time has come to refer the perpetrators to the International Criminal Court,” he declared.

LAURENT FABIUS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, said “tonight, in the midst of the Syrian crisis, the Security Council can finally live up to its name”. The use of chemical weapons was obvious; all clues pointed to the regime. No one in good faith could deny that fact. The present resolution met France’s three requirements: it determined that the use of chemical weapons constituted a threat to international peace and security; clearly stated that those responsible for such crimes must be held accountable; and decided that, in the event of non-compliance by the Syrian regime, the Council would take action under Chapter VII of the Charter. The resolution was only a first step; now it must be implemented. The Syrian regime, which until recently had denied possessing chemical weapons, could not be trusted. The United Nations and OPCW should immediately deploy their joint mission; the timetable set forth in the present text must be enforced.

He added that “the cooperation of Syria must be unconditional, and fully transparent”. The Council, which would be informed regularly, would be the judge of Syria’s commitment, and would impose measures under Chapter VII, if necessary. France would remain “watchful”. It wanted to capitalize on the Council’s unity to advance the political process and felt it was necessary to prepare the Geneva II conference within the framework of the Geneva Communiqué. He had chaired a meeting on Thursday with the President of the Syrian National Coalition, who confirmed a readiness to send a delegation as soon as possible. The Syrian regime’s supporters must make a similar commitment. He urged the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy to move quickly in that direction.

ELMAR MAHARRAM OGLU MAMMADYAROV, Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, welcomed the resolution and expressed hope that it would help to end the crisis. He said it was important that the Security Council stressed the need to hold accountable the perpetrators of the chemical attacks in Syria. Welcoming the American-Russian accord on Syria and the OPCW role, he said it was critical to ensure compliance, adding that tonight’s resolution had made careful provisions for that. All parties should cease the violence, he said, and seek a political solution to the conflict.

YUN BYUNG-SE, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, said the resolution showed the Council’s unity on the Syrian crisis, fulfilling its overdue responsibility to the Syrian people. Condemning the use of chemical weapons in the strongest possible terms, he reiterated that all such weapons should be eliminated — in Syria and everywhere. Today’s text made it clear that chemical weapons use anywhere was a threat to international peace and security. Only its full implementation would determine the value of the collective enterprise. Its binding nature showed the Council’s resolve to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria, and the international community bore responsibility for promoting its implementation. The world could not afford acts of impunity, and, as such, the Council must ensure that those responsible for chemical weapons use were held accountable. He hoped an international conference would be held as soon as possible.

WANG YI, Foreign Minister of China, said that neither Syria nor the region could afford another war. The Security Council and the international community must make decisions that would pass the judgement of history. Stating his opposition to military solutions, he welcomed the resolution’s focus on the search for the chemical weapons. China, itself, had been a victim of chemical weapons during the Second World War, and the country opposed those weapons in all forms. He called for a comprehensive and accurate settlement of the issue of chemical weapons in Syria, and urged the international community to also step up efforts to deal with the humanitarian crisis there. The political solution and the destruction of chemical weapons must go side by side, he said, adding that the parties in Syria must redouble efforts in what would be a complex period ahead.

FERNANDO CARRERA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, welcomed the rejection of the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Russian Federation and the United States and the subsequent 14 September framework agreement. Today’s Council decision was “highly significant”, as it helped renew efforts to end the violence, address the humanitarian situation and meet the Syrian people’s demands. Towards that end, Guatemala had persistently backed the 30 June 2012 Final Communiqué of the Action Group for Syria and the need to hold an international conference to facilitate its implementation. Adoption of the present text, which Guatemala had co-sponsored, was of vital importance, considering that the last resolution on Syria had been adopted in April 2012. He understood the sensitivity of the issue and the urgency it demanded, and for that reason, had joined the consensus, despite having preferred a greater role in its development.

He recognized the importance of cooperation between the United Nations and OPCW, particularly in terms of personnel access and safety, operational support, privileges and immunities, and sufficient funding to carry out their duties. He trusted that a date could be set soon for the Geneva II Conference, and added that a transitional Syrian Government with full executive powers could be set up under the mutual consent of all parties. Such a Government must be inclusive. He expressed hope for a ceasefire in the short term.

SARTAJ AZIZ, Adviser to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on National Security and Foreign Affairs, said the resolution was a landmark text, which demonstrated the Security Council’s leadership. Its unanimous adoption meant the international community had taken ownership of the process of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons programme. He hoped the new-found unity in the Council would be maintained, and added that the 15-member body would have difficult waters to navigate. A political settlement was the only way forward, including to mitigate the humanitarian crisis. The announcement of the convening of Geneva II reflected the urgency of the problem, he said, adding that the international community should proceed with a sense of purpose. Although it was too late for more than 100,000 Syrians, there was hope for millions of others.

SAAD-EDDINE EL OTHMANI, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco, said “at last” the Council had been able to agree on an important resolution on the Syrian situation that reflected a genuine will to end the conflict. He appreciated efforts made by the “P-5” towards a solution that would find, destroy and ensure that chemical weapons were never used again. The League of Arab States also had led initiatives on the Syrian situation and the use of chemical weapons. Today’s historic text outlined steps for dealing with chemical weapons, in line with the United States-Russian Federation agreement. For the first time, it recognized chemical weapons were a threat to international peace and security. That would help to prevent a repeat of recent massacres, eliminating one of the Middle East’s largest chemical weapons arsenals in a peaceful manner. Morocco hoped a date would soon be set for the holding of the Geneva II Conference. Syria’s humanitarian situation was a catastrophe and every effort must be made to support United Nations agencies to help in that regard. Syria’s neighbours were also suffering.

HÉCTOR MARCOS TIMERMAN, Foreign Minister of Argentina, noting that the unfolding “horror show” was neither isolated nor unpredictable. Nevertheless, a door had been opened to a solution. The world saw the pettiness of the geopolitical interests at play, which had prompted ethical outrage in the international community. There was no leeway for double standards, he said, adding that those using chemical weapons must not go unpunished. The multilateral regime established by the United Nations Charter must be the basis for the lasting peace. The resolution established a specific mechanism for the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria on the basis of the United States-Russian Federation accord, and it also contained elements discussed in the Council, which had prompted Argentina to co-sponsor it. He called for greater efforts to address the other dimensions of the conflict and said the Council must remain seized of the matter.

EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA ( Rwanda) said that, as the world prepared for the twentieth anniversary of the killing of Tutsis in his country, the conscience of the international community had been stained by the ongoing conflict in Syria, now in its thirteenth month. “We said ‘never again’ in Rwanda”; yet ethnic cleansing and other horrors had occurred in many corners of the world. The Council had not been able to save more than 100,000 people in Syria, due to divisions among certain members. The 21 August attack had led to the loss of innocent lives.

He welcomed the Council’s decision to impose coercive measures under the Charter’s Chapter VII, should Syrian authorities not comply with today’s text. He was pleased it called for the revival of the Geneva process. A military solution was not viable for that country or for the region. He urged the Council — especially the “P-5” countries that had influence on Syrian parties — to implement the Geneva Communiqué as soon as possible. Any political solution should ensure that those who had committed crimes were held accountable.

KODJO MENAN ( Togo), welcoming the resolution’s adoption, said the spirit of compromise had eventually prevailed. The Russian-American framework laid the groundwork for the text, he said, adding that, by co-sponsoring it, Togo not only had demonstrated its desire to see the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, but also of all weapons of mass destruction. The Security Council must step up efforts for a radiant future for Syria through the Geneva II Conference, he said, adding that the unity demonstrated in the Council must be used to bring together all parties in Syria for a political solution. The Council also must pay attention to the terrorist violence committed in that country, he said, adding that an inclusive and multi-faith Syria would bring unity and conciliation.

GARY QUINLAN ( Australia) expressed hope that today’s text would mark a turning point in the Council’s approach to Syria, showing that the body could use its authority to help achieve a stable and secure future for Syrians. For the first time, the Council had made clear that chemical weapons use was a threat to international peace and security, strengthening a fundamental norm of international relations: that the use of those weapons was abhorrent and breached international law.

He said that the text imposed legally binding obligations on Syria to secure and destroy its chemical weapons, and place them and related materials under international supervision. The Council decided that non-compliance by Syria would result in Chapter VII consequences. Importantly, the Council reaffirmed that the perpetrators of that mass atrocity crimes must be held accountable. Australia believed that available data showed that the Syrian authorities were responsible for chemical weapons use and that the Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. Also, for the first time, the Council endorsed the Geneva Communiqué. It must now address humanitarian crisis more decisively.

 

Resolution

The full text of Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) reads as follows:

“The Security Council,

Recalling the Statements of its President of 3 August 2011, 21 March 2012, 5 April 2012, and its resolutions 1540 (2004), 2042 (2012) and 2043 (2012),

Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic,

Reaffirming that the proliferation of chemical weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security,

Recalling that the Syrian Arab Republic on 22 November 1968 acceded to the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, signed at Geneva on 17 June 1925,

Noting that on 14 September 2013, the Syrian Arab Republic deposited with the Secretary-General its instrument of accession to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (Convention) and declared that it shall comply with its stipulations and observe them faithfully and sincerely, applying the Convention provisionally pending its entry into force for the Syrian Arab Republic,

Welcoming the establishment by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic (the Mission) pursuant to General Assembly resolution 42/37 C (1987) of 30 November 1987, and reaffirmed by resolution 620 (1988) of 26 August 1988, and expressing appreciation for the work of the Mission,

Acknowledging the report of 16 September 2013 (S/2013/553) by the Mission, underscoring the need for the Mission to fulfil its mandate, and emphasizing that future credible allegations of chemical weapons use in the Syrian Arab Republic should be investigated,

Deeply outraged by the use of chemical weapons on 21 August 2013 in Rif Damascus, as concluded in the Mission’s report, condemning the killing of civilians that resulted from it, affirming that the use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious violation of international law, and stressing that those responsible for any use of chemical weapons must be held accountable,

Recalling the obligation under resolution 1540 (2004) that all States shall refrain from providing any form of support to non-State actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons and their means of delivery,

Welcoming the Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons dated 14 September 2013, in Geneva, between the Russian Federation and the United States of America (S/2013/565), with a view to ensuring the destruction of the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons programme in the soonest and safest manner, and expressing its commitment to the immediate international control over chemical weapons and their components in the Syrian Arab Republic,

Welcoming the decision of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of 27 September 2013 establishing special procedures for the expeditious destruction of the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons programme and stringent verification thereof, and expressing its determination to ensure the destruction of the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons program according to the timetable contained in the OPCW Executive Council decision of 27 September 2013,

Stressing that the only solution to the current crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process based on the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012, and emphasising the need to convene the international conference on Syria as soon as possible,

Determining that the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic constitutes a threat to international peace and security,

Underscoring that Member States are obligated under Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations to accept and carry out the Council’s decisions,

“1. Determines that the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security;

“2. Condemns in the strongest terms any use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, in particular the attack on 21 August 2013, in violation of international law;

“3. Endorses the decision of the OPCW Executive Council 27 September 2013, which contains special procedures for the expeditious destruction of the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons programme and stringent verification thereof and calls for its full implementation in the most expedient and safest manner;

“4. Decides that the Syrian Arab Republic shall not use, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to other States or non-State actors;

“5. Underscores that no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer chemical weapons;

“6. Decides that the Syrian Arab Republic shall comply with all aspects of the decision of the OPCW Executive Council of 27 September 2013 (Annex I);

“7. Decides that the Syrian Arab Republic shall cooperate fully with the OPCW and the United Nations, including by complying with their relevant recommendations, by accepting personnel designated by the OPCW or the United Nations, by providing for and ensuring the security of activities undertaken by these personnel, by providing these personnel with immediate and unfettered access to and the right to inspect, in discharging their functions, any and all sites, and by allowing immediate and unfettered access to individuals that the OPCW has grounds to believe to be of importance for the purpose of its mandate, and decides that all parties in Syria shall cooperate fully in this regard;

“8. Decides to authorize an advance team of United Nations personnel to provide early assistance to OPCW activities in Syria, requests the Director-General of the OPCW and the Secretary-General to closely cooperate in the implementation of the Executive Council decision of 27 September 2013 and this resolution, including through their operational activities on the ground, and further requests the Secretary-General, in consultation with the Director-General of the OPCW and, where appropriate, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, to submit to the Council within 10 days of the adoption of this resolution recommendations regarding the role of the United Nations in eliminating the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons program;

“9. Notes that the Syrian Arab Republic is a party to the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, decides that OPCW-designated personnel undertaking activities provided for in this resolution or the decision of the OPCW Executive Council of 27 September 2013 shall enjoy the privileges and immunities contained in the Verification Annex, Part II(B) of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and calls on the Syrian Arab Republic to conclude modalities agreements with the United Nations and the OPCW;

“10. Encourages Member States to provide support, including personnel, technical expertise, information, equipment, and financial and other resources and assistance, in coordination with the Director-General of the OPCW and the Secretary-General, to enable the OPCW and the United Nations to implement the elimination of the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons programme, and decides to authorize Member States to acquire, control, transport, transfer and destroy chemical weapons identified by the Director-General of the OPCW, consistent with the objective of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to ensure the elimination of the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons programme in the soonest and safest manner;

“11. Urges all Syrian parties and interested Member States with relevant capabilities to work closely together and with the OPCW and the United Nations to arrange for the security of the monitoring and destruction mission, recognizing the primary responsibility of the Syrian Government in this regard;

“12. Decides to review on a regular basis the implementation in the Syrian Arab Republic of the decision of the OPCW Executive Council of 27 September 2013 and this resolution, and requests the Director-General of the OPCW to report to the Security Council, through the Secretary-General, who shall include relevant information on United Nations activities related to the implementation of this resolution, within 30 days and every month thereafter, and requests further the Director-General of the OPCW and the Secretary-General to report in a coordinated manner, as needed, to the Security Council, non-compliance with this resolution or the OPCW Executive Council decision of 27 September 2013;

“13. Reaffirms its readiness to consider promptly any reports of the OPCW under Article VIII of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which provides for the referral of cases of non-compliance to the United Nations Security Council;

“14. Decides that Member States shall inform immediately the Security Council of any violation of resolution 1540(2004), including acquisition by non-State actors of chemical weapons, their means of delivery and related materials in order to take necessary measures therefore;

“15. Expresses its strong conviction that those individuals responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic should be held accountable;

“16. Endorses fully the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012 (Annex II), which sets out a number of key steps beginning with the establishment of a transitional governing body exercising full executive powers, which could include members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent;

“17. Calls for the convening, as soon as possible, of an international conference on Syria to implement the Geneva Communiqué, and calls upon all Syrian parties to engage seriously and constructively at the Geneva Conference on Syria, and underscores that they should be fully representative of the Syrian people and committed to the implementation of the Geneva Communiqué and to the achievement of stability and reconciliation;

“18. Reaffirms that all Member States shall refrain from providing any form of support to non-State actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery, and calls upon all Member States, in particular Member States neighbouring the Syrian Arab Republic, to report any violations of this paragraph to the Security Council immediately;

“19. Demands that non-State actors not develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery, and calls upon all Member States, in particular Member States neighbouring the Syrian Arab Republic, to report any actions inconsistent with this paragraph to the Security Council immediately;

“20. Decides that all Member States shall prohibit the procurement of chemical weapons, related equipment, goods and technology or assistance from the Syrian Arab Republic by their nationals, or using their flagged vessels or aircraft, whether or not originating in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic;

“21. Decides, in the event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter;

“22. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.

 

Annexes

The following Annexes attached to the Resolution are extensive. Their full texts are reproduced in the Press Release of September 27, 2013 (SC/111).

Annex I — OPCW Executive Council Decision
Decision on destruction of Syrian chemical weapons

Annex II — Action Group for Syria Final Communiqué (30 June 2012)

 

Overall Conclusions

Today was a good day for advocates of peace and respect for International Law. This highly significant agreement has the potential to restore collaboration among the five Permanent Members of the Security Council, which is an essential requirement for the maintenance of international peace and security in the world.

Sergey Lavrov and Russia speak the language of International Law. Barack Obama and John Kerry will be more successful in dealing with them if they learn to speak in that language as well. Today was a good start in that regard, and more generally on the road to peace.

No one can foresee what might happen if the statesmen of the world start having and developing visions of peace.

If the Resolution is observed, Kerry and Lavrov may have a good shot at jointly winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Trenchant Observer

We are a bunch of curious people, that’s for sure, who care about the commission of evil in this world

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

We are a bunch of curious people, that’s for sure. We are that small minority, minuscule perhaps, who follow foreign policy and world events in great detail, day-in and day-out, with passion.

Where does that interest in other countries and people who live in foreign lands come from? A family relation or family origin, perhaps. Maybe we knew or know someone from a foreign country.

For some reason, whatever it might be, we care. We care about those people in foreign countries who we may not even know. Why?

Something must have happened in the neural circuits of our brains, or in the spiritual circuits of our souls. Maybe we took some religious or moral belief seriously, all too seriously, so that it opened up our hearts to what happened to others, or what was done to them, in these far-off places. Somehow, our defenses against feeling their pain and horror became breached.

This seems to be true for many of us. For whatever reason, we have opened ourselves up to feel the pain and suffering of the world. Perhaps somewhere in our brief journey through this life we saw evil, or were touched by evil–real evil.

We are that very curious group of people who care, at an emotional, spiritual and moral level, about the evil that is done to others in this world, through torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity, for example.

A Russian, Fyodor Dostoevsky, once wrote,

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness …
Crime and Punishment

Maybe he was right. But one need not be a great woman or a great man to be open to the pain of others in far-away lands. Nor need the feeling of sadness become dominant in one’s thinking and behavior.

For us, this curious bunch of people who follow world events, with passion and empathy, with “Mitgefühl or “Mitleid”, as a German might say, this curious group of people who care about others for reasons “de l’humanité”, as a Frenchman might say, or “por la humanidad” as a Spaniard might say, what happens in Syria matters.

We care. We care about the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, about the murder with chemical weapons by al-Assad of 1400 human beings in Ghouta, on August 21, 2013.

But in America, our leaders do not care, nor apparently do our countrymen, or enough of them. Not the way we do. Maybe nothing happened in the neural circuits of their brains, or in the spiritual circuits of their souls, like it did to us. Maybe they never had a genuine friend from an Arab-speaking country, an Arab-speaking friend. Maybe they can’t really see Syrian Arabs as human beings like us, the way we do.

All I know is that humanity has come to a terrible place, when leaders and peoples will not do what is required to halt the commission of evil on a massive scale.

Or even consider revoking most-favored-nation treatment for Russia, who stands strong in defense of, and in complicity with, the mass murderer and his crimes.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama, Putin and Syria: Commentary

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Roger Cohen, “An Anchorless World,” New York Times, September 12, 2013.

Laure Mandevill, “Syrie : Obama sort de la crise affaibli face à Poutine,” Le Figaro, le 15 septembre 2013.

Tomas Avenarius, Kairo (Kommentar), “Abkommen zu Syrien: Tausche Senfgas gegen Machterhalt,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 15. September 2013.

“Der Plan zur Vernichtung der syrischen Chemiewaffen wird als diplomatische Meisterleistung beklatscht. Es gibt dem Diktator Assad aber auch Zeit, die Rebellion niederzuschlagen – die Aufständischen werden der russisch-amerikanischen Großmachtpolitik geopfert. Dieser Verrat wäre nur auf eine Weise zu rechtfertigen.”

The Trenchant Observer

The Leopard and the Impala: Putin astutely plays Obama for a chump

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

We can’t know for sure what the outcome will be with respect to the Russian proposal to put chemical weapons in Syria under international control and eventually to destroy them.

But I have a sinking feeling in my stomach, as al-Assad argues that Israel will have to give up its chemical and nuclear weapons and Russia cuts down a French proposal for a strong Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, adding that it doesn’t think anything more will be necessary than a (legally meaningless) Security Council “Presidential Statement” taking note of Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The “international control” that would be exercised under the ordinary terms of the Chemical Weapons Treaty would give al-Assad infinite opportunities to quibble with the inspectors, while his armies continue to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against his people.

Several observations are in order:

1. Obama has shown through his vacillating and weak-kneed “pivots” on Syria that he doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to pull the trigger on planned military action against Syria.

His character is weak. The world now knows this. The consequences to our national security are likely to be grave.

2. Obama has also shown that he is not a stalwart ally or leader, and instead is one who doesn’t hesitate to pull the rug out from under those whose help he has enlisted. A powerful example of this was offered by his decision to undercut Turkey and others who were planning military action a year ago, deciding instead “to work through the Russians”.

In this last week, we have seen multiple examples of how he undercuts members of his own team, e.g., after John Kerry made a strong case for military action and then Obama gave it the “soft-sell” in what was almost a casual manner. Or, following Samantha Power’s strong words regarding the perfidious role the Russians have played in the Security Council, when Obama made a 180 degree turn on a dime and ignored all of that, looking instead to the Russians to lead the effort to get Syria to give up their chemical weapons.

3. The president has also shown that he is the ultimate loner, deciding without consulting anyone else to submit a request for authorization for military action against Syria to the Congress.

It was a moment when he might have pulled the trigger. He flinched. Now his fleet that was on station in the Mediterranean, according to DEBKAfile, has dispersed.

Pulling the trigger in public, as opposed to pulling the trigger in the black shadows of the basement of the White House during a drone strike operation, turns out to be incredibly difficult for the president.

The Russian plan if fully implemented would solve the problem of chemical weapons in Syria. But it would also legitimize al-Assad’s hold on power, potentially at the cost of an undertaking to forswear the use of force against Syria no matter what happens there.

Just as he pulled the rug out from under the Turks a year ago, Obama is willing to pull the rug out from under the Syrian opposition forces we have been encouraging, in word if not in deed, for the last two years. Nor has Obama publicly supported the French who were preparing to present a strong draft Security Council resolution on Tuesday.

However abhorrent their support for and complicity in the crimes against humanity and the war crimes Bashar al-Assad and his regime have committed against the Syrian people, including through the use of chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013, it is hard not to appreciate on a technical level the cold-blooded effectiveness with which Sergei Lavrov and Vladimir Putin have sized up Obama, and successfully played him for a chump.

Nonetheless, their bad faith is manifest from the simple fact that Putin continues to insist the attack at Ghouta was by rebel forces, contrary to all available evidence and without producing a shred of evidence himself for that baleful proposition.

The only way a chemical weapons ban in Syria would make any sense would be if it were imposed by the Security Council on Syria through a binding resolution adopted under the authority of Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.

Even then, it would not make sense unless it opened the way to further collaboration with the Russians in an urgent effort to establish a ceasefire at the earliest opportunity.

Otherwise, the U.S. will have handed Putin and al-Assad an enormous military and diplomatic victory. Having forestalled a palpable risk of military action by the United States against Syria, they could now play the old delay and divide game where any solution depends on al-Assad’s agreement to this or that provision of this or that agreement. The impeteus for military action by Obama will have passed, after his powerful demonstration of weak resolve when the cards were in his hands.

One further point is that Obama’s failure to offer any detailed legal justification for military action against Syria has made it almost impossible for him to build a coalition and a base of support outside the circle of the oldest friends of the United States in Europe and the Gulf, and undoubtedly has also hurt him on Capitol Hill.

So, we can conclude that Obama is not likely to use force against Syria, even under the most compelling of circumstances.

His argument for military action against Syria is divorced from a cogent strategic rationale, while he shows that despite the gassing of over 1400 civilians in Ghouta on August 21, 2013, he remains determined not to try to shift the balance in Syria. Nothing in his policy towards Syria has changed; only the chemical weapons issue has grabbed his attention, and he appears willing to sell out the Syrian opposition and the Gulf states in order to pursue a solution to “his Syrian problem” by “working through the Russians”.

For the moment, he is left with his Russian friends, and what they might deign to do to help him extricate himself from the utter fiasco he has created in the last two years, and the last month in particular, in Syria–and politically back in the United States.

It is bad enough to have a president who is an incompetent foreign policy leader. That misfortune is infinitely compounded when that president is a control freak, and insists on making every foreign policy call himself.

Given his incompetence and that of his White House team, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”, the best we Americans can hope for is that through some kind of miracle Obama will relinquish tight control over foreign policy and allow his Secretary of State, who seems eminently qualified for the job, to take the lead. The president’s job would be to back him up.

But of course we live in a world of infinite possibilities, where elephants can fly. Maybe there will be a deal for al-Assad to surrender his chemical weapons, under the terms of a strong Security Council resolution.

Maybe Obama will find the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the Russians when they don’t play nice.

Maybe Obama will remember America’s friends in the Gulf, and how they are likely to react to a U.S. betrayal of the Syrian opposition.

Maybe the Republicans and Democrats in Congress will grasp the disastrous fiasco in Syria the United States has fallen into in the last month, and decide to provide the bipartisan support the president may need to act effectively in the current situation.

One can hope for the best, and hope to be surprised in a positive sense. Maybe elephants can fly.

The Trenchant Observer

The Russian proposal to control and dismantle chemical weapons in Syria—How to test it without losing momentum

Monday, September 9th, 2013

The Russians have been nimble at diplomacy throughout the two and a half years of the Syrian crisis, and today was no exception.  Picking up on a response made by Secretary of State John Kerry at a news conference, they proposed a deal whereby Syria would surrender its chemical weapons to international authorities and agree to their destruction, in exchange for the U.S. and its allies not carrying out military strikes against Syria.

See Michael R. Gordon and Steven Lee Myers, “Obama Calls Russia Offer on Syria Possible, New York Times, November 9, 2013.

This is an interesting proposition, but a perilous one. 

It is interesting because removal of chemical weapons from Syria and the risk of their falling into the hands of al-Qaeda affiliated or other terrorists is very strongly in the national interests of both Russia and the United States.

Potentially, if done in the right manner, the removal of such weapons from Syria would also establish an important precedent regarding the use of chemical weapons:  “Use them, and you lose them.”

At the same time, the Russians and their Syrian clients have been adroit at dangling illusory negotiated solutions before the U.S. and other Western countries, succeeding time and again in fouling up any plans of outside powers to intervene forcefully in Syria to halt al-Assad’s atrocities. 

In this case, they seem to have zeroed in very precisely on President Obama’s whole rationale for intervening in Syria.  Predictably, he was thrown off, just as he was seeking Congressional authorization for military action against Syria. 

Meanwhile, while the approval of the House of Representatives appeared in doubt, as of today, Secretary of State Kerry and others have done a good job of building up international support for military action against Syria.  They aren’t there yet, but they have made great progress, and after the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Vilniius this last weekend, Kerry, Obama, and the U.S. clearly seem to be gaining momentum as other countries think through the consequences of failing to stand with the United States on Syria.

So what should the U.S. and its allies do about the Russian proposal?

One way to test the Russians’ intentions—without losing too much momentum—would be to propose that the U.N. Security Council adopt a binding resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter deciding that Syria will surrender all of its chemical weapons to international authorities and assist in their destruction.

The negotiation that would be left would be over the implementation of the resolution by al-Assad and the United Nations. Here, Russia could be expected to play an important part.

This approach would avoid the pattern of drawn-out negotiations to get al-Assad to agree to this or to that, when we all know—the world knows—that his agreement by itself means nothing.

It would also put the Russians’ true intentions to the test.  This could be done within a period of a couple of weeks, for example, so that at the end of that period we would have both the report of the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors and also know quite clearly whether the Russians are willing to act.

Even if agreed, such a plan would leave the civil war on the ground raging as before. 

It is conceivable, however, that after collaborating on such a Security Council resolution and subsequent implementing plans, that the Russians could become more amenable toward working with the West and the Arab countries to set up transitional arrangements in Syria. 

Given Iran’s experience of having been the subject of chemical weapons attacks by Iraq during their long and tragic war (1980-1988), and the recent election of Hassan Rohani as the new president, the complex interplay of forces in Iran could conceivably lead to support for such a solution adopted by the Security Council–and perhaps even open up further possibilities for agreement on transitional arrangements in Syria. 

So, in conclusion, the U.S. and its allies should:

1.  Avoid getting suckered in to protracted negotiations to obtain the consent of al-Assad for the removal and dismantlement of his chemical weapons. 

Make the agreement in the Security Council with the Russians and the other members of the Council.  Then let the Russians ensure that al-Assad complies with the agreement. 

2.  Proceed with military plans if the Russian offer proves to be just another illusion and delaying tactic, as so many of their initiatives have turned out to be in the past.

We should always give peace a chance.

But we should also always bear in mind that the question is not whether the United States is going to war with Syria, but rather whether the United States and its allies are going to act effectively to take steps toward bringing a war that is currently raging in Syria to a halt.

The Trenchant Observer