Posts Tagged ‘China’

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)

Ban Ki-Moon’s Special envoy Robert Serry manhandled, blocked, and forced to abandon mission in the Crimea; Repercussions from the Ukraine in the East China Sea and beyond

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Nostalgia hit of the week: The Beetles, “Back in the USSR” (available on YouTube here)

Putin’s Answer to Diplomatic Initiatives

Russia’s answer to the diplomatic outreach extended by the West since Monday was given on Wednesday in Simferopol, in the Crimea, where U.N. special envoy Robert Serry was forced to flee his car when his driver was pulled out and replaced by someone unknown, as others entered the car. Serry pulled away and proceeded on foot. he was chased through the streets of the inner city until he found refuge in a cafe named the “Wiener Märchen” (the Viennese Fairy tale).”

The cafe was then blockaded by Russian soldiers or militiamen with a threatening mob outside. Only after Serry agreed to end his mission in the Crimea did the Russian soldiers or militia members outside the cafe form a corridor for him to exit. He ws retrieved by a U.N. vehicle which sped directly to the airport, from where he departed on a later flight to Kiev.


(1) Benjamin Bidder (Simferopol), “Krim-Krise: Prorussischer Mob jagt Uno-Beobachter durch Simferopol,” Der Spiegel, 5. Marz 2014 (21:15 Uhr).

(2) Somini Senguptamarch, “Senior U.N. Envoy Threatened at Gunpoint in Crimea, New York Times, March 5, 2014.

(3) (Avec AFP), “Le cauchemar de l’envoyé spécial de l’ONU en Crimée, Le Soir, 5 mars 2014.

Die Vereinten Nationen wollten sich ein Bild von der unübersichtlichen Simferopol auf der Halbinsel Krim machen. Doch prorussische Demonstranten jagen die Uno-Leute so lange durch Simferopol, bis die Vermittler die Stadt fluchtartig verlassen.

Demonstrators also threatened the members of on OSCE observation team in Simferopol.

Thus, taking his moves from the playbook of Bashar al-Assad, who used similar tactics to obstruct the work of U.N. observers present to oversee a U.N.-arranged ceasefire in Syria in March, 2012–eventually forcing them to abandon their mission after repeatedly coming under fire, Putin continued playing his double game, spewing lies and propaganda about what has been going on in the Crimea, while his soldiers and agents on the ground consolidated their military seizure of the Crimea and undertook increasingly provoccative actions.

The powder keg is dry, and there are many with matches who could set it off.

Putin and Lavrov, meanwhile, continued to maintain in public that the uniformed men without insignia were not Russian military personnel. Their assertions even reached the ludicrous extreme of their feigning a lack of knowledge of who these men are.

Despite Putin’s charade, which seemed like a scene out of Woody Allen’s 1971 movie farce Bananas, the undisputed fact is that Russian military forces control the Crimea and everything that happens in it. Under international law, even if the anonymous soldiers were not Russian, Russia would be responsible for their actions due to its de facto control over the territory of the Crimea.

Putin is acting like Hitler in the Sudetenland in 1938. He has flagrantly violated the most fundamental legal norm of the postwar (post-1945) legal and political order, which is based on the establishment of the United Nations and the probition against the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of its Charter.

Repercussions beyond Ukraine and even Russia’s neighbors

NATO and the West would be tragically mistaken if they were to interpret Putin’s actions as having repercussions only in Central and Eastern Europe.

Just as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harborin 1941 was partly a product of Hitler’s Anschluss or forced union of Austria with Germany in March, 1938 and the chain of events which followed, including the forced annexation of the Sudetenland on September 30, 1938, Putin’s military intervention in the Crimea could unleash forces in Asia which could lead to the resolution of conflicting maritime and territorial claims between China, Japan, Korea and other countries in the region by the use of military force.

Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria in March, 1938 was followed by his forced annexation of the Sudetenland on September 30, 1938 (with the agreement of France, England and Italy in the infamous Munich Pact), his invasion of “rump” Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, amd finally his invasion of Poland on Septemer 1, 1939, which set off World War II. In 1941, he even invaded his recent ally (through the Molotov-Rippentropp Pact), the Soviet Union.

The critical point to understand is that the international legal and political order is indivisible. The cornerstone of that order is the prohibition of the threat or use of force Force among states, particularly aggression in the form of military intervention. A corollary of that prohibition is that the fruits of its use will not be recognized by international law. Wcithout these norms, and their vigorous regarffirmation whenever they are vgiolated, acceLerating instability would enter the system as a whole, shaking it until it collapsed.

Aggression, lies, and bad faith diplomacy must have consequences. The Soviet invasion of Hungary (1956), Czecholslovakia (1968), and Afghanistan (1980) had consequenes. The fact the illegal use of force by Russia in Georgia in 2008 did not produce serious conquences for Russia–permitting business as usual to continue–has helped lead us to where we are today in the oUkraine.

If Russia’s military intervention in Crimea is allowed to stand, the international community should not be surprised if one day an Asian power decides to use military force to settle its claims to the islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea.

There are other territorial claimss and disputes In the region which one or another other power might be tempted to try to resolve through the use of military force. Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, it should be recalled, was based not only on the experiencep of Europe leading up to and during WW II, but also on the depredations in China resulting from Japanese aggression in the 1930′s and against the United States in 1941.

International peace and security are indivisible. That has been the vision of the founders of the United Nations and also of their successors, and the experience of the last 75 years. Understood in this light, it is clear that Russian military aggression against the Ukraine, if it is allowed to stand, could have the most significant of consequences.

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*
Republic of Korea
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
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.



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



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.



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.



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

International human rights in retreat, as Iran, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia gain the upper hand

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

It has been a hard couple of years for advocates of international human rights, and respect for international law of which they form a part. Since the hopes of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran, and the Arab Spring beginning in Tunisia in February, 2011, the struggle for democracy and the rule of law in the Middle East, and elsewhere, has suffered grievous setbacks.

We can only imagine what Europe would be like today had Serbia and Milosovic and Karadzic not been stopped, eventually by the use of military force when that was ultimately required. Actually, long after it was required, when the U.S. and NATO got around to it.

Now we must imagine a future in which Iran, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia, with their ally in the League of Authoritarian States, China, stand triumphant.

One can try to imagine what Europe would have been like had Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich been left standing after World War II.  Jean Monnet’s dream of a united Europe would have been unthinkable, for example.

So, after World War II, we had the vision of international peace and security which was embodied in the United Nations Charter. For 65 years we pursued the goals set forth in the Charter, without ever admitting they were beyond our reach.

But now, as the Middle East is swept into a vortex that is every bit as dangerous as the Balkans in the summer of 1914, that dream of a world made up of democracies governed by the rule of law, and nation states continuously developing treaties and legal institutions in order to achieve in concrete form the goal of peace, appears to be receding.

The dream, after all, can only survive so long as it is shared by the leaders of the world and their peoples.

Now, however, the enemies of that dream — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Russia, and China (which include the core members of the League of Authoritarian States) — are fighting successfully to replace its hopes with the guns and missiles and bombs and knives of the repression which they represent.

The rest of the world, including those countries which have or aspire to attain democracy and the rule of law, appear to be asleep.

Meanwhile, Iran is defeating the allies of the United States in a hot war in Syria, as Russia resumes its former role of being the ultimate friend of despotic states. The war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by al-Assad and his allies in Syria do not move the Kremlin, which has itself done worse in recent times in Chechnya, not to speak of its atrocities in the 20th century. China is sending troops to participate in the U.N. force in Mali, which is a welcome sign, but will not budge on its support of Russia on Syria.

If that were not enough, the head of the African Union on the 50th anniversary of its founding has accused the International Criminal Court of hunting Africans out of racist motives, notwithstanding the fact that the new head prosecutor of the court is from The Gambia. Together the dictators and autocrats of Africa have taken a stand against the ICC’s prosecution of the newly elected President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity.

So, we can forget all that talk about “the responsibility to protect”, as darker days lie before us in a world where Bashar al-Assad stands triumphant, Vladimir Putin (“the executioner of the Caucasus”) stands triumphant, and the clouds of looming war blacken the skies in which our future hopes might otherwise reside.

The leaders of the West of today, and Barack Obama first among them, will long be remembered as having faced the moment of truth in the struggle between the forces of freedom and those of darkness–who are supporting and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, firing artillery and tanks and bombs on innocent civilian populations—and having shrugged their shoulders and walked away from the battle.

This has been going on now for over two years.

We are witnessing a whole generation of Neville Chamberlains and Éduouard Daladiers in action, with not a single Winston Churchill to be found.

Who does President Obama remind you of more, Winston Churchill or Neville Chamberlain?

Syria does not concern them. Just as Germany and Japan did not concern the democratic nations of the world in 1936 or 1938, and just as the raging civil war in Spain in the 1930′s did not concern them, in which Fascist Germany and Fascist Italy supported Franco’s forces against the Republican armies, while the democracies of Europe hid behind their purported obligations of neutrality.

Iran and Russia appear to have taken the measure of Barack Obama and the resolve of the West, and decided as a result to back al-Assad to the hilt. Iran must now be highly confident that neither the United States nor Israel will engage in any military action that could inflict damage sufficient to halt their onward march toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

For the moment, Iran and Hezbollah and al-Assad and the Russians are winning in Syria, and beyond.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: “Looney Toons” at the White House: New York Times article details Obama’s thinking on Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #45 (May 27, 2012)

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Introduction to the REPRISE (May 7, 2013)

So, Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria turns out to be a red line that leads directly to the Kremlin.

What American diplomacy has failed to achieve, spectacularly, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry now think they can achieve by talking to Putin and Lavrov.

Well, maybe. But hardly likely. Lavrov and Putin now achieve their goal of holding the conference Kofi Annan conjured up as one of his last “castles in the sky” at the conference held at Geneva on June 30, 2012.

How this will stop the killing in Syria is anyone’s guess.

It is just words, words to get Obama off the hook for his “red line” comment, which have come back to haunt him now that al-Assad has used chemical weapons in Syria.

Now that Obama is once again seeking a solution by going to the Russians, who have steadfastly supported al-Assad in his commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. See the following Reprise from the Trenchant Observer to understand just how pitiful this last move by Obama and “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight” is.

Sadly, our hopes in John Kerry seem to have been misplaced.  He appears now to have joined “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.  His role will be to do Obama’s bidding.  Obama will continue to control foreign policy from the White House, guided by assistants such as Ben Rhodes.

If this course is not corrected, the disasters of Obama’s first term are likely to be repeated, on a much grander scale with much graver consequences.

REPRISE: “Looney Toons” at the White House: New York  Times article details Obama’s thinking on Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #45 (May 27)

Originally published May 27, 2012

[after Looney Tunes, trademark for a series of animated cartoons] [Slang] crazy; demented: also loon’ y-tunes

loon’i-er, looní-est [LUNATIC] crazy; demented
pl. loon’-ies a loony person Also loon” ey, pl. -eys

–Webster’s New Worl Dictionary


In a front-page article in today’s New York Times, Helen Cooper and Mark Landler describe the thinking behind President Obama’s policy towards Syria. They report,

WASHINGTON — In a new effort to halt more than a year of bloodshed in Syria, President Obama will push for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad under a proposal modeled on the transition in another strife-torn Arab country, Yemen.

The plan calls for a negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Mr. Assad’s government in place. Its goal is the kind of transition under way in Yemen, where after months of violent unrest, President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down and hand control to his vice president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in a deal arranged by Yemen’s Arab neighbors. Mr. Hadi, though later elected in an uncontested vote, is viewed as a transitional leader.

The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Mr. Assad’s staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal.

–Helen Cooper and Mark Landler, “U.S. Hopes Assad Can Be Eased Out With Russia’s Aid,” New York Times, May 27, 2012.

President Obama, administration officials said,

will press the proposal with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia next month at their first meeting since Mr. Putin returned to his old post on May 7. Thomas E. Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, raised the plan with Mr. Putin in Moscow three weeks ago.

Donilon, who is not a seasoned diplomat, apparently did not impress Putin, judging by the latter’s cancellation of his participation in the G-8 summit at Camp David on May 18-19.

The biggest problem with the Yemen model, several experts said, is that Yemen and Syria are starkly different countries. In Yemen, Mr. Saleh kept his grip on power for three decades by reconciling competing interests through a complex system of patronage. When his authority collapsed, there was a vice president, Mr. Hadi, who was able to assert enough control over Yemen’s splintered security forces to make him a credible transitional leader.

In Syria, by contrast, Mr. Assad oversees a security state in which his minority Alawite sect fears that if his family is ousted, it will face annihilation at the hands of the Sunni majority. That has kept the government remarkably cohesive, cut down on military defections and left Mr. Assad in a less vulnerable position than Mr. Saleh. Even if he leaves, American officials conceded, there is no obvious candidate to replace him.

The sheer incompetence of this White House on foreign policy matters is stunning.

Paradoxically, among a number of news commentators within the Washington bubble, Obama is viewed as doing pretty well on foreign policy, particularly since taking out Osama Bin Laden. None of these commentators are foreign policy experts with any experience, however. Further, Democratic foreign policy experts have largely held their silence, probably out of concern that criticism could help the Republicans in the November elections. Moreover, Obama has since his first days in office charmed the press, and many reporters and commentators are simply unwilling to criticize the administration on foreign policy issues in any fundamental way.

Significantly, the Washington Post, which is the one newspaper read by most government officials in Washington, has simply failed to cover Syria with a reporter, usually being content to just run the AP wire story. What contributions they do make are limited in the main to stories providing information by administration officials, named and unnamed.

The Editorial Board, on the other hand, has written some clear-minded editorials on Syria. The disconnect betwee the Editorial Board and the reporting side of the newspaper is hard to understand, especially in view of the Post’s illustrious history.

Despite the reputed “successfulness” of the administration’s foreign policy leadership–which analytically does not stretch beyond the fact that it has not become an issue which hurts the Obama in the presidential race, the utter lack of serousness of Preident Obama and the White House on Syria is exposed for all to see in today’s New York Times article by Cooper and Landler.

Washington’s response to Moscow’s callous support of al-Assad as he killed thousands of people through war crimes and crimes against humanity is on a par with Éduoard Daladier’s and Neville Chamberlain’s betrayal of Czechoslovakia in October, 1938, when they signed “the Munich Pact”.

One of the first betrayals on Syria was with Turkey:

Secretary Clinton caught her Turkish counterpart off guard during their meeting in Washington last month. Clinton reportedly told Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the Obama Administration “preferred going through the Russians” in an attempt to achieve a political solution being shopped by the UN/Arab League’s Special Syrian Envoy Kofi Annan.
–Amb. Marc Ginsberg, “Syria Is Obama’s Srebrenica,” Huffington Post (The Blog), March 28, 2012 .

On the U.S. decision to sell out its regional allies and to work through Russia instead, see

The Trenchant Observer, “The emperor has no clothes”: Foreign policy without a moral core—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #19 (March 29), March 29, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “Into the Abyss: Washington’s Fecklessness, Syria’s Fate—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #20 (March 30), March 30, 2012.

The reader is invited to read the Observer’s recent articles on Syria, and to draw his or her own conclusions as to whether Obama, Donilon, Clinton and the rest of the administration’s foreign policy team are conducting a competent foreign policy, first of all in Syria, but also everywhere else.

In the Observer’s opinion, this team is “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”. For example, the Sixth Summit of the Americas, held in Cartagena, Colombia on April 14-15, was totally overshadowed by the prostitution scandal involving members of the Secret Serivce and the U.S. military. Little press attention was given to the substance of the meeting, the most important of the year with the leaders of the Latin American countries.

See Brian Ellsworth (Cartagena, Colombia), “Despite Obama charm, Americas summit boosts U.S. isolation,” April 16, 1012.

Now, on the Syrian question, by following a path of “working through the Russians”, the Obama administration has given up its last shred of moral legitimacy in the Middle East. Between al-Assad, Russia, China, and Iran, on the one hand, and the people of Syria, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, on the other, and in the face of immense human suffering and the ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime, the United States is pursuing a strategy of “working through the Russians.”

Obama is incompetent as a foreign policy leader. Former Ambassador Marc Ginsberg is to be congratulated for his moral courage in speaking out on the question of Syria, in a clear voice.

What the United States needs, desperately, is for other foreign policy experts–and national leaders–to speak out with equal clarity, be they aligned with the Democratic Party in the United States, with the Republicans, or from other countries that are friends of the United States.

In the meantime, the international community would do well to look elsewhere than to the United States for leadership on the Syrian question.

See The Trenchant Observer, “At least 70 killed nationwide; massacre of 50 in Houla; U.N. International Commission on Syria Update—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update # 43 (May 25),” May 25, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “Chief of UN Observers confirms massacre at Houla; NGOs report 35 children and total of 110 killed—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #44 (May 26),” May 26, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: The U.N. Charter, International Law, and Legal Justifications for Military Intervention in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #90 (December 12, 2012)

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

This article was first published on September 1, 2012

The situation in Syria (is) unfolding “in front of our eyes”, with the regime deploying fighter jets against the people, in addition to heavy artillery and tanks, (Ahmet DAVUTOĞLU, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, told the Security Council on August 30). “How long are we going to sit and watch while an entire generation is being wiped out by random bombardment and deliberate mass targeting?” he asked. “If we do not act against such a crime against humanity happening in front of our eyes, we become accomplice to the crime,” he warned.

As we wrote following the August 30 meeting of the Security Council,

Everyone wants a ceasefire and an end to the killing. Few seem to have come to grips with the fact that the use of force will be required, outside the framework of the Security Council. There can be little doubt that, within the Security Council itself, there is not going to be any agreement to use force (or even to adopt strong economic sanctions) to bring al-Assad’s barbarism to a halt.

This will have to be done outside the framework of the Security Council. What is needed is for one or more countries, preferably but not necessarily acting as a coalition, to just act to set up the safe zones, and one or more accompanying no-fly zones if that is required as a result of al-Assad’s response.

–U.N. Security Council Meets: More “blah, blah, blah”, and no action—Obama’s debacle in Syria — Update #82 (August 30), August 31, 2012.

Such action should be accompanied by a justification under international law.

That justification should stress that the purpose of the action is to protect the population of Syria against the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The stated purpose of the operation should not be to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad, which is impermissible under international law. On the other hand, it would be permissible if an operation which protected the population against the commission of such crimes also facilitated a process that would bring to account those in Syria who are responsible for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

While such fine distinctions may seem of little significance to those not versed in international law, they are in fact quite important in terms of limiting the precedent that would be set and obtaining support from other countries for such action, if not immediately at least over time.

For further discussion of legal justifications for intervention in Syria, see the following articles by The Trenchant Observer and the sources cited therein:

Continuing massacres in Syria, at Daraya and elsewhere; legal justification for military intervention — Obama’s Debacle in Syria —Update #78 (August 26), August 26, 2012

REPRISE: Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria— Update #68 (July 25), July 25, 2012

Military Intervention to establish “no-kill zones” and humanitarian corridors—Syria Update #9 (February 25), February 24, 2012

The critical issue with respect to legal justifications for establishing and defending “safe zones” or “no-kill zones” in Syria, and the establishment of no-fly zones if required, is whether such action would violate Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter. Article 2(4) provides:

Article 2

The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.

(4) All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

On the face of it, the use of force to enforce a no-fly zone, or to defend a “safe zone” from assaults by Syria’s army, would involve an action against the “territorial integrity” of Syria. This is the horn of the dilemma.

Read literally, any permanent member of the Security Council could, through the use of its veto, block any military action by any state within the territory of another state, except in the case of an “armed attack”, no matter what the circumstances. In principle, such a veto could block any action by the civilized nations of the world to bring to a halt a war crimes and crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing such as occurred in Kosovo, or even genocide such as that conducted by Adolph Hitler during World War II.

Various interpretations of the Charter have proposed ways out of this logical box. One is the so-called “teleological” interpretation, by which Article 2(4) must be interpreted not literally, but rather in the light of the general purposes of the U.N. Charter and its other principles. Using this approach, one might justify the establishment of “no-kill zones” and “no-fly zones” in Syria.

The problem is that such “teleological” interpretations might open Pandora’s box, allowing multiple interpretations and opportunities for abuse by states intervening for their own purposes, e.g., to overthrow the al-Assad regime, while putting a humanitarian argument forward to justify their actions. Or, to cite another example, Israel and the United States might attempt to justify an attack on Iran to take out or greatly degrade its nuclear enrichment capabilities and what they believe is a secret program aimed at developing nuclear weapons, on the rationale that it is necessary to maintain international peace and security.

Alternatively, Israel and the United States could in principle attempt to justify an attack on Iran as an exercise of the right of individual and collective self-defense, an exception to the prohibition in Article 2(4) contained in Article 51 of the Charter, which provides:

Article 51

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

The key words in Article 51 are “if an armed attack occurs”, which has been interpreted as embodying the requirements that the armed attack have occurred or be imminent, immediate and leave no time for other actions. Exercise of the right of self-defense has traditionally been subject to the requirements “immediacy, necessity and proportionality”.

See Flavio Paioletti, “The 21st Century Challenges to Article 51,” e-International Relations, June 30, 2011.

The United States and other nations have not always acted within this tight legal framework. In 1999, for example, the United States and NATO conducted a unilateral bombing campaign against Serbia in a successful effort to get the government to stop its policy of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Despite its humanitarian purpose, no legal justification was advanced by the U.S. Department of State for the action.

In Iraq, the United States sought to justify its 2003 invasion of that country both on the basis of previous Security Council resolutions and on the basis of the “right” advanced by the Bush administration to “pre-emptive self defense”.

The concern of states and legal scholars from around the world is that by allowing “teleological” interpretations of Article 2(4) or expansive interpretations of what constitutes “an armed attack” creating a right of individual and collective self-defense, such interpretations would open the door to increasingly expansive assertions of the right to use force across international frontiers. It is significant that in the case of Kosovo, no legal justification was offered.

So, we are left with the legal regime brilliantly defined by the founders of the United Nations to establish rules and mechanisms to effectively regulate the international use of force, on the one hand, and the fact that as the populations of more and more countries seek to demand respect for their fundamental human rights, and the right to participate in government, existing dictorships may resort to the appalling use of terror and crimes against humanity and war crimes in defending their hold on power, as has happened recently in Libya and Syria.

Unlike domestic laws and the constitution in the U.S., the United Nations Charter and other international agreements are subject to rules of strict interpretation, as established in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This makes sense, as nations are generally extremely wary of ceding authority to international institutions, and rules of strict interpretation are necessary in order to secure participation in international treaties. While the United Nations Charter is something of a special case, since very few countries would consider withdrawal from the organization, acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice remains voluntary, a fact which underlines the continuing importance of rules of strict interpretation.

Caught in this logical box, are we to stand idly by as tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of human beings are slaughtered, whenever a permanent member of the Security Council exercises a veto?

The United Nations Charter is 67 years old. It has survived the Korean war, the war in Vietnam, the invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan (1980), the Balkan wars, genocide in Rwanda and the Sudan, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The fundamental question is whether states should: (1) simply act outside the charter when they feel compelled to do so for humanitarian reasons (e.g., Kosovo); (2) justify their actions on legal grounds, preferably as taken with the support of regional organizations (e.g., NATO) or a broad coalition of nations; or (3) do nothing in the face of acts of barbarism such as those being committed in Syria.

In the case of Kosovo, Russia brought a resolution to a vote in the Security Council which condemned the bombing of Serbia, but the resolution was defeated 12-3.

Perhaps that is as close to 100% compliance with the Charter norms as we can get in the world today.

The ultimate choice is between undertaking effective action that will halt the atrocities in Syria, or sticking with our current policies.

In the case of the U.S., the current policy is carefully calibrated to comply with the requirements on the use of force laid down by the International Court of Justice in 1986 in the Nicaragua case. In that case, the Court held that direction and control of rebel groups was required in order for assistance to rebel groups to constitute an armed attack, thereby triggering a right of individual or collective self defense.

If the decision is made to establish safe zones and associated no-fly zones (if necessary), a final choice is whether to provide some legal justification for such action, or to follow the example of the United States in the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, and offer none.

While the choice here is not entirely clear, a strong argument can be made for advancing a highly restrictive legal justification, narrowly tailored to the circumstances in the Syrian case, together with the support of a regional body such as NATO, and undertaken only as a provisional measure of protection until such time as the Security Council can act effectively to protect the population of Syria from the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Russia may bring a resolution condemning such action in the Security Council. Assuming the resolution is defeated by a healthy margin, as occurred in the case of Kosovo, this may be the closest to compliance with the Charter as is possible today.

The Trenchant Observer

Kofi Annan’s Ghost Arises: More Illusory Solutions from Brahimi and China—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #89 (November 8)

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Chinese Proposal for Syria

It is curious indeed to see China propose a “solution” to the Syrian civil war at this precise moment in time, when power is being transferred to Xi Jinping and a new generation of Communist Party leaders at the Party Congress which opens today.

The “proposal” is made of thin air, and seems to have been conjured up on the spot when Lakhdar Brahimi was in Beijing to discuss the Syrian situation with the foreign ministry.

See Colum Lynch (Turtle Bay), “Could China’s Syria ceasefire plan be the path to peace?” Foreign Policy, November 1, 2012. Lynch restates the details of the Chinese proposal, which include:

“A political settlement is the only viable solution in Syria,” Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, according to Xinhua, which outlined Beijing’s big idea:

First, relevant parties in Syria should make every effort to stop fighting and violence, and cooperate actively with the mediation efforts of Brahimi. Relevant parties should implement effective steps toward a cease-fire, for example region by region or phase by phase, expand the areas of cease-fire, realize disengagement, and eventually bring an end to all armed conflict and violence.

Second, relevant parties in Syria should appoint empowered interlocutors as soon as possible so that, assisted by Brahimi and the international community, they can formulate through consultations a roadmap of political transition, establish a transitional governing body of broad representation, and implement political transition so as to end the Syrian crisis at an early date. To ensure a safe, stable and calm transition, the continuity and effectiveness of Syria’s governmental institutions must be maintained.

Third, the international community should work with greater urgency and responsibility to fully cooperate with and support Brahimi’s mediation efforts and make real progress in implementing the communique of the Geneva foreign ministers’ meeting of the Action Group for Syria, Mr. Annan’s six-point plan and relevant Security Council resolutions. The positive efforts of the Arab League and countries in the region in search of a political settlement should be valued.

Fourth, relevant parties should take concrete steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The international community should increase humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and ensure proper resettlement of refugees beyond the Syrian border and timely aid for those in need within Syria. The Syrian government and various parties should render full cooperation to the work of the United Nations and relevant neutral institutions to provide humanitarian assistance in all conflict-affected regions and ensure the safety of their personnel. At the same time, humanitarian issues should not be politicized and humanitarian assistance should not be militarized.

The Chinese proposal should simply be ignored. It contains no more than previous “castles in the sky” agreed to by the permanent members of the Security Council, which contained no coercive measures to oblige al-Assad to stop the killing.

See Allison Jackson, “China’s peace plan for Syria: Q & A;
China has proposed a four-point peace plan for resolving the Syrian crisis. But what does it mean? And why now?” GlobalPost, November 7, 2012.

Anyone who believes that an agreement by al-Assad could mean anything, and could lead to an end to the fighting, has–to put it most charitably–either been asleep or not following developments in Syria for the last year.

The Ghost of Kofi Annan Arises

At the same time, the ghost of Kofi Annan has arisen in the form of Lakhdar Brahimi’s latest thoughts on a solution to the on-going civil war. It will be recalled that Brahimi was proposed by Kofi Annan as Russia and China exerted great pressure on Ban Ki-Moon to urgently appoint a successor to Kofi Annan following the latter’s resignation. Obligingly, without any public discussion of the desirability of continuing Annan’s ill-conceived and ill-fated mission, though with a new Special Envoy, Ban Ki-Moon appointed Brahimi at Annan’s suggestion.

Now, in the Chinese proposal with Brahimi, we see the same plan Annan was floating in Geneva on June 30. We see the same worn, rejected ideas resurface in Brahimi’s latest thinking, including–incredibly–the idea of the Syrian government and others in Syria appointing “empowered interlocutors” to negotiate transitional arrangements. Brahimi has in the last few days warned of a collapse of the Syrian state and the “Somalization” of the conflict, while also arguing the June 30 agreement in Geneva should be adopted by the Security Council as a resolution. He seems to be grasping at straws in the face of an increasingly desperate situation.

That these ideas have not died once and for all, after the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians during the period of Kofi Annan’s mission (which amounted to de facto work on behalf of the Russians and al-Assad himself), is beyond incredible.

It is so incredible that the United States and other nations should rethink their support of the U.N. peacekeeping activities led by current officials, and act, immediately, to defund the office in Geneva which supports Brahimi’s futile and dangerous mission.

The U.N. administration under Ban Ki-Moon’s leadership has contributed exactly zero in efforts to halt the killing by the al-Assad government in Syria, and has acted in fact in ways which have delayed effective action by other states by endlessly holding out unfounded hopes and “castles in the sky“.

Enough! Send Brahimi home. Ignore the illusory “proposal” from China. Ignore the UN clowns! Support action that will provide a counter-force to al-Assad’s tanks and artillery and aircraft which are attacking and bombing the Syrian population.

Above all, the U.S., NATO and Arab states should firmly resist any efforts by Russia, China, or al-Assad to use Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and his mission to save al-Assad and his government from the harsh fate they so richly deserve.

Phrasing the Demand for Change in Syria

The demand for change in Syria should not be literally phrased as one for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad, for that plays into the Russian and the Chinese counterargument that the international community should not be in the business of replacing governments.

Instead, the demand should be phrased in terms of requiring that those responsible for ordering the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and tolerating the commission of such crimes by those under their command, should be removed from power, arrested and detained, and prosecuted for their crimes.

The Russians and the Chinese will be on much weaker ground in seeking to rebut this demand. It should be stated as part of a general goal of bringing to a halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

When the commission of such crimes is halted and those responsible for their commission are removed from power and brought to justice, the killing in Syria will stop.

No negotiated agreement with al-Assad and his fellow war criminals will produce real results.

The only agreements now worth pursuing are ceasefire agreements, with implementation mechanisms, whether arranged locally or at a national level as the regime begins to crumble.

Intense thought should now be given to the establishment of an international force (whether under U.N. auspices, or those of another international coalition), which can effectively oversee that ceasefire and the reconstruction of Syria which should begin the day the guns go silent.

U.N. Security Council Action Required When the Syrian State Starts to Collapse

Once the Syrian state starts to collapse, if not before, the Permanent Members of the Security Council should come together to draft a resolution that would establish a U.N. Transitional Authority in Syria, together with a U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Syria with a mandate for two-five years. This is what will be required, sooner or later, to bring the situation under control following the collapse of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

See  The Trenchant Observer, “REPRISE: Goals to guide the international community in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #62 (July 11),” July 11, 2012.

The Permanent Members of the Security Council should be in continuing and direct consultations with each other as the crisis continues to unfold. They should be talking to each other directly, not through Lakhdar Brahimi (with Kofi Annan offering advice from the wings).

These conversations and negotiations should not be merely delegated to lower-ranking officials, but should include the active involvement of officials at the ministerial and the presidential levels.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Responding to Atrocities in Syria: It’s Not Just About Al-Assad, It’s About Us—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #86 (September 18)

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Responding to Atrocities in Syria: It’s Not Just About Al-Assad, It’s About Us

Originally published March 6, 2012

I heard a boy in Syria on the BBC talking about what was going on there, a few days ago, and he said that ultimately the atrocities could not be stopped until people in other countries really cared about the suffering of the people in Homs, and elsewhere in Syria, and intervened to stop it.

It really comes down to that. Whether the leaders and populations of the countries of the civilized world care about al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sufficiently to stop it. That boy hit the nail on the head. It all boils down to whether we care. Enough.

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

But the leaders of the civilized world, such as they are, don’t care. Not enough to act, not enough to undertake the only action that might stop al-Assad, which is using military force to halt the killing.

Given the momentum and tempo of the murderous offensives underway, it is highly doubtful that even China and Russia, al-Assad’s accomplices in the commission of these crimes, could force Syria to stop the killing. Nor is it likely that a new Security Council resolution, even with the abstention or support of China and Russia, could stop the killing. Unless it authorized the use of military force, and even then delays in execution–such as those that occurred in Libya–could cost thousands of more lives.


For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.


It is difficult to sleep, here in the United States, knowing that dozens or hundreds of people are being murdered each day by Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers and security forces, during these same hours, in broad daylight in Syria. Men and boys are being rounded up in groups and taken away to be executed–or executed on the spot. Men are pulled from cars at checkpoints, and taken to be shot.

This is what General Franco’s forces did during the Civil War in Spain from 1936-1939. It is what Hitler’s officers and soldiers did throughout Europe in World War II, from September 1939 until they were stopped in May, 1945 by the combined military forces of the Allied Powers.

Not just men and boys, but also women and children are being killed every day in Syria by the indiscriminate shelling by tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons into apartment blocks and homes. Round-ups are underway, where individuals believed to be opponents of al-Assad, or who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who just happen to be Sunni instead of Alawite, are hunted down and either taken away to be tortured and/or shot, or have their throats slit by knives as they lay tied on the ground.

Hell has come to Syria.

A merciless slaughter and brutal repression are currently underway in Syria, each day as we try to sleep in the United States–a relentless, grinding slaughter, with horrors beyond all telling.

We know this. The world knows this. The world has first-hand testimony from witnesses, videos from cameras and smart phones, almost in real time. We have the U.N. Special Commission Report on Syria of February 22, 2012, which provides the details. News accounts bring us up to the present, with chilling accuracy.

The death toll has already surpassed the 7,000 men and boys massacred at Srebrenice, in 1995–as U.N. peacekeepers from the Netherlands, stationed in Srebrenice, stood by and did nothing to protect the population from the butchery of Slobodan Milosovic and Ratko Mladic.

It is some consolation that both were taken to The Hague, where Milosovic died while being tried, and where Mladic’s trial will commence in May. But their trials cannot bring back the men and boys who were slaughtered in Srebrenice on July 11, 1995.

And we, in the civilized world, swore that we would never let Srebrenice happen again.

One would think the Dutch would be out front on this one. But they aren’t.

To be sure, there have been other crimes against humanity, in Rwanda and Darfur, for example. And it is demonstrably true that we in the civilized world cannot stop all such crimes in all such places.

But in Syria, at the center of the lands and civilizations, going back four thousand years, which once formed part of the Roman Empire, close to Jerusalem and the heartland of the three religions of the The Book (Chirstianity, Judaism, and Islam), the civilized world could do something to stop this killing–if it had the courage and the will to do so.

Tragically, our leaders are too feckless to act. It would be difficult to take down the Syrian air defenses, our military leaders testify before Congress. The mililtary action would be difficult, and that is adduced as a reason not to undertake it. As if the Normandy invasion was not difficult. Or the Battle of Corregidor. Or taking down the Serbian air defenses in the bombing in Serbia in 1999 to stop the the ethnic cleansing by the Serbs in Kosovo.

Why is it hard to sleep?

Because I believe that President Obama has real-time intelligence on the details of the atrocities that are being committed, and may well be able to watch events in real-time from cameras on satellites and drones and other platforms (as he did when Bin Laden was taken down). I believe he knows exactly what is going on. And he is unwilling to lift a finger to do anything about it.

He has reportedly vetoed any military action, within the last week.

I support Obamacare, but I can’t support “Obama doesn’t care”.

I heard a boy in Syria on the BBC talking about what was going on there, a few days ago, and he said that ultimately the atrocities could not be stopped until people in other countries really cared about the suffering of the people in Homs, and elsewhere in Syria, and intervened to stop it.

It really comes down to that. Whether the leaders and populations of the countries of the civilized world care about al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sufficiently to stop it. That boy hit the nail on the head. It all boils down to whether we care. Enough.

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

But the leaders of the civilized world, such as they are, don’t care. Not enough to act, not enough to undertake the only action that might stop al-Assad, which is using military force to halt the killing.

Given the momentum and tempo of the murderous offensives underway, it is highly doubtful that even China and Russia, al-Assad’s accomplices in the commission of these crimes, could force Syria to stop the killing. Nor is it likely that a new Security Council resolution, even with the abstention or support of China and Russia, could stop the killing. Unless it authorized the use of military force, and even then delays in execution–such as those that occurred in Libya–could cost thousands of more lives.

That is why Kofi Annan’s U.N. mediation effort is so tragic. It is misbegotten on principle, and the principle is that we should not negotiate the cessation of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We should not negotiate with war criminals, except for the terms of their prompt exit from the scene.

It is ill-considered in that, wholly aside from the principle of the matter, Annan’s consultations will 1) give al-Assad control of the pace of the “mediation” efforts; and 2) lead to drawn-out diplomatic consultations that will give the Syrian Dictator the time he wants to commit more war crimes and crimes against humanity to wipe out his opponents, and their villages and towns.

Only mass amnesia at the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and other powers he may have consulted, could account for the failure to take into account the sad history of the Arab League’s negotiations with Syria over implementation of its November peace plan, and its experience in sending monitors to the country. Whatever al-Assad might agree to, would be utterly worthless, as he has zero credibility. And more time would be lost, to check on his compliance with any agreement, for diplomatic consultations as to what to do. More time for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the total destruction of neighborhoods and towns that have shown opposition or resistance.

Actually, there has been one notable exception to the general passivity of leaders in the civilized world. U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain had the courage to speak up on the floor of the Senate yesterday, March 5, and to call for air attacks on al-Assad’s forces to halt the killing and other atrocities. In the United States, his speech was reported in general, but the powerful and cogently reasoned arguments he presented, supporting his call for immediate military action, have as yet received little coverage in the United States. News coverage in Europe, in fact, may be better.

The speech is of fundamental importance for understanding the options that face us in Syria, and the consequences of inaction. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who is following developments in that country.

So why should all of this cause anyone to be troubled as he goes to sleep?

The crimes are eerily similar to the crimes for which the Nazi war criminals were prosecuted at Nuremberg.

We are doing nothing effective to stop al-Assad from continuing with his massacres. We know what is going on. We are gutless wonders.

So, what is going on in Syria is not only about al-Assad. It is also about us.

It is about the levels of barbarism we are willing to watch, in real time, close to Jerusalem and the heart of Europe and the Middle East, without lifting a finger.

We have no principles left which we believe are worth fighting for.

Afghanistan long since ceased to be about building democracy and the rule of law, even in incipient form, and there we fight only so we can get out without the Afghan government falling. Victory is not the goal, but “degrading the Taliban”, while we delude ourselves with thoughts of a negotiated settlement that would amount to something short of capitulation–over time–to the Taliban.

I doubt that Obama would have acted to bomb Serbia in order to halt the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, if it had occurred on his watch.

We have no leaders, and the world is adrift.

Civilized countries now accept the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

That is not right. And so it is with a troubled mind that I now seek sleep.

The Trenchant Observer

Xi Jinping, China’s presumed next president, re-emerges after two-week disappearing act

Friday, September 14th, 2012

The leadership of China is passing through what is normally a choreographed ballet of renewal and change which occurs once every ten years. But this year, the choreography seems to have had a few unexpected steps, as the succession of a new generation of leaders to be headed by Xi Jinping has run into a few obstacles. Ian Johnson of the New York Times has reported that no dates have as yet been set for the Communist Party Congress, which was originally expected to be held in mid-October. He writes,

One reason for the delay, the experts say, is what now appears to have been a contentious meeting in early August at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, China. According to the official script, this was to have been the final big meeting before the congress of leaders from the party’s various factions: the military, big state enterprises, descendants of revolutionary families, leaders of critical Communist Party organizations and others. The details of the congress were to be finalized at Beidaihe and the dates announced later in August.

Instead, according to information that is slowly leaking out, the Beidaihe meeting and other sessions beforehand in Beijing were especially tense. “The atmosphere was very bad, and the struggles were very intense,” said a political analyst with connections to the party’s nerve center, the General Office.

–Ian Johnson, “Off-Script Scramble for Power in a Chinese Leader’s Absence,” New York Times, September 13, 2012.

Xi Jinping, the heir apparent to current President Hu Jintao, disappeared from public view two weeks ago, giving rise to a variety of rumors, from one that said he had hurt his back swimming to others that suggested he might have had a heart attack or a stroke.

Now, he has finally surfaced, putting in an appearance at the China Agricultural University Saturday morning for activities marking this year’s National Science Popularization Day.

See Xinhuanet, September 15, 2012 (with photos).

Before he reappeared, John Garnaut, the China correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote that Xi planned to crack down on the security apparatus, including the removal from the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the position with the security portfolio, as part of a downsizing of the group from nine to seven members. Much remains up in the air, however.

See John Garnaut, “Xi plans to crack down on security,” Sydney Morning Herald, September 15, 2012.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Moore of the The Daily Telegraph provides intriguing details of the possible causes of Xi Jinping’s two-week absence and the delay in announcing the dates for the Party Congress. From Beijing, he writes,

“At the Beidaihe meeting, no decisions were made but the old gang criticised Xi harshly, especially Qiao Shi and Song Ping,” said the former editor, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Both Mr Qiao, 87, and Mr Song, 95, are strong supporters of Hu Jintao, the outgoing president.

The elders allegedly accused Mr Xi of not sticking to the rules by meeting twice with members of the Central Military Commission, which controls the People’s Liberation Army, while Mr Hu was visiting Hong Kong in early July.

One meeting occurred in Mr Xi’s house and the other at the commission’s compound.

“They called him unreliable and even brought up the idea of significantly delaying the party congress,” said the source. “The fight was so harsh that Jiang Zemin [the former president] had to mediate.”

With Hu Jintao preparing to step down from power, and hand over to Mr Xi, he faces the uncertainty of whether his successor will continue his legacy, or turn against him, a perennial fear for a Chinese politician.

A new rift appears to have emerged between the two main factions in the Communist Party: the “red” princelings, the up-and-coming children of Communist Party heroes, and the technocrats.

Mr Xi is a princeling, while Mr Hu is a technocrat, although Mr Xi has been successful at bridging the divide. “Song Ping and the other elders are suspicious of Mr Xi and the other princelings because they are not obedient. They saw these princelings grow up and know the difference between them and Mr Hu and Wen Jiabao [China's premier], who are more polite and less personally ambitious”.

The pressure on Mr Xi, who is the focus of the world’s attention as he tries to grasp his chance to be president, may explain his mysterious absence.

–Malcom Moore (Beijing) “Xi Jinping ‘under huge pressure’ from inside the Communist party; Xi Jinping, China’s president-in-waiting, who has not been seen in public for two weeks, was under intense pressure from within the Communist party before he disappeared, the Daily Telegraph has been told,” The Daily Telegraph, September 14, 2012 (7:45 p.m. BST).

The Chinese succession is of tremendous importance not only to the citizens of China, but also to the rest of the world. The choreography is not going as planned. Stay tuned.

The Trenchant Observer