The United Nations has always been reminiscent of an old guard dog: There is a lot more bark than bite. Following the opening session of the UN General Assembly on September 17, the issue of how to resolve the Syrian conflict has once again revealed their inherently dysfunctional and toothless nature.
Without a doubt, the recent agreement brokered between the U.S. and the Russian Federation designed for Syria to have all of its chemical weapons material removed from the country and destroyed by the middle of next year has been an excellent starting point. The next step in this process, however, is where trouble has always occurred: the UN Security Council’s adoption of a resolution that will include a mechanism to ensure the enforcement of this agreement.
Whereas the U.S. has expressed its desire for the resolution to impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (specifically Article 42 which provides that “action by air, sea, or land forces” may be used “to maintain or restore international peace and security”), Russia has not budged from its stance that it will wield its veto power to block any Security Council resolution permitting the consideration of the use of force against Syrian President Assad.
The inability of UN Security Council members to agree on any effective resolution involving the use of force has been a glaring flaw since the inception of the UN. The initial impetus behind the world’s first intergovernmental organization, which was formed in 1945 following the atrocities of WWII, was unquestionably a noble one as the Allied victors aimed to forever prevent unchecked aggression. Since then, however, the UN has routinely failed to enforce its governing body of law to severely restrict the use of force in order to maintain international peace and security. Indeed, one of the founding purposes of the UN Charter was “to take effectively collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace” and “to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of [a] ... humanitarian character.”
Unfortunately, UN Security Council members have the power of veto, enabling any one of them to prevent the adoption of any resolution, regardless of the level of international support. As such, Assad's government has been shielded by Russia, a UN Security Council permanent member, thereby allowing him to engage in unchecked aggression against his own people for nearly two and a half years while the UN has looked on helplessly.
Even in the unlikely event that Russia could be persuaded to agree to a resolution that would permit the use of force in the event that Assad failed to destroy his chemical weapons arsenal, the blood of innocent Syrian civilians will continue to flow. While the Syrian government’s deadly use of sarin nerve gas on August 31 caused a mass killing outside Damascus has been the most atrocious and attention-grabbing event of this civil war, over 100,000 Syrians have already died by the use of conventional weapons. Meanwhile, the prospect that this humanitarian disaster will cease any time soon threatens to engulf the entire region in the conflict.
Indeed, there some who claim that the Russian-U.S. agreement is nothing more than a delaying tactic being masterfully employed by Assad. The theory posits that while Assad has conceded to remove his country’s chemical weapons, the Syrian rebels will continue to be attacked unabated by Assad's military until any opposition has been completely decimated.
Moreover, there does not appear to be any consequential repercussions if Assad fails to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. After all, over 100,000 Syrians have already perished in this civil war and chemical weapons have been employed once before. There is not much reason to believe that Assad has much to lose at this point.
There is truly no right answer on how to handle the Syrian civil war. To turn a blind eye to the massacres occurring is unacceptable, but no country appears to want to sacrifice its own people by willingly entering itself into this quagmire. By their very natures, states are self-preserving and only have their own interests at heart. It was for this very reason that the UN was created.
Yet, as the Syrian people cry for help from the international community, the UN has shown itself to be utterly ineffective when it is truly needed. Even as far back as October 2012, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson commented on how Syria has undermined the UN’s credibility, stating that, “The United Nations [has] to prove that we can present international solutions that work ... And of course I will admit openly that the fact that the Syria tragedy goes on day after day is very damaging for the standing of the United Nations.”
Despite this admission, however, it is nearly a year later and the UN is no closer to putting an end to the atrocities happening in Syria.