SYRIA AND THE SECURITY COUNCIL PART 3

Though I have been very preoccupied over the last few days I am writing this short post to explain what actually took place in the Security Council on 19th July 2012 since this is not being reported properly.

The Security Council’s meeting stems from the Geneva Conference, which took place a few weeks ago to discuss the Syrian crisis.  Over the course of that conference all five permanent members of the Security Council (the US, Britain, France, Russia and China) pledged to support a peace plan proposed by the UN envoy and former Secretary General Kofi Annan.  This plan calls for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations leading to the establishment of a transitional government to take Syria out of the crisis.  The purpose of the Security Council meeting was to extend the UN monitoring mission set up to support Annan’s peace plan and to enshrine Annan’s peace plan in a Security Council Resolution so as to give the plan legal force.

The Security Council on 19th July 2012 was presented with two competing drafts.  The one that was eventually put to the vote was drafted by the British government but was supported by all the other western powers including the US, France and Germany.  The other draft was prepared by the Russian government but was not put to the vote and has now been withdrawn.

The text of the proposed draft Resolution is here:

http://www.new-york-un.diplo.de/Vertretung/newyorkvn/en/__pr/press-releases/2012/20120719-syria-resolution.html?archive=2990092

The draft Resolution is clearly stated as being made under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.  This empowers the Security Council to take action (including military action) where there is a perceived threat to peace.

The draft does, though rather grudgingly, recognise that some responsibility for the current violence in Syria rests with the Syrian rebels as well as with the Syrian government.  The draft calls on the rebels along with the government to observe a ceasefire.  However the draft still puts the overwhelming weight of the blame for the violence on the Syrian government.  The rebels by contrast are let off very lightly.  The preamble for example

“….. (condemns) the series of bombings that have made the situation more complex and deadly, some of which are indicative of the presence of well-organised terrorist groups” (italics added).

These words leave open the possibility that the bombings, which have killed many civilians, are the work not of the rebels but of the Syrian government.  Coming the day after the killing by a terrorist bomb of the Syrian Defence Minister and other high ranking Syrian officials this seems to me an extraordinary choice of words to put it mildly especially as Al Qaeda has itself admitted that it is now operating in Syria alongside the rebels and given that this has been confirmed by the US government’s own intelligence agencies.

The crucial paragraphs in the draft are paragraphs 4 and 14.  Paragraph 4 requires the Syrian government to withdraw all its heavy military equipment from urban centres.  Paragraph 14 says that if the Syrian government fails to do this within 10 days the Security Council will “immediately” impose sanctions under Article 41 of the UN Charter.

Article 41 of the UN Charter authorises financial sanctions but does not authorise the use of force.  Paragraph 15 of the draft however requires the Secretary General to report to the Security Council compliance with the Resolution every 15 days.  This opens the way for authorisation of military action under Article 42 once the Secretary General reports that the Article 41 sanctions are not working.  Article 42 says

“Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security….” (italics added).

Contrary to what is therefore being said (including by Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the Security Council) the draft Resolution therefore paves the way for eventual military action against Syria.

As the drafters of the Resolution know if the Resolution had been passed it would have been suicide for the Syrian government to comply with it.  At a time when there is a rebel offensive underway against Damascus the Resolution orders the Syrian government to withdraw from Damascus the heavy weapons it is using to defend Damascus.  The Resolution makes no comparable demand or threat to the rebels.  If Syrian rebels fail to observe the ceasefire the Resolution orders (as on past experience they would be certain to do) the Resolution imposes no threat or sanction upon them.

The purpose of the Resolution was not therefore to put into effect Annan’s peace plan.  The purpose of the Resolution was to overthrow the Syrian government.  Had the Resolution been passed the Syrian government would have been ordered to withdraw its heavy weapons from Damascus and the other cities in the face of a rebel offensive under threat of sanctions and with the ultimate threat of military action if it did not.  The collapse of the Syrian government’s military position and its overthrow would be certain to follow were it to comply.  Article 41 sanctions would follow within 10 days when it did not. Even after the Article 41 sanctions had been imposed the Syrian government would however still be unable to comply with the Resolution by withdrawing its heavy weapons from Damascus and the other cities without jeopardising its own survival.  In the event however that it do not withdraw its heavy weapons from Damascus and the cities the Secretary General would be bound to report within 15 days to the Security Council that the Syrian government was still failing to comply with the Resolution notwithstanding the Article 41 sanctions that had been imposed.  Since the Secretary General would in effect  be reporting to the Security Council that the Article 41 sanctions had failed to achieve the desired effect demands for a further Resolution authorising military action under Article 42 would become irresistible.

In other words this draft Resolution is as biased and as lopsided as the previous western draft Resolutions that were vetoed in the Security Council in October and February.  Its purpose was not to make possible a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis but to pave the way for a rebel military victory whilst opening up the prospect of western military action if this failed to happen.

In the event Russia and China vetoed the Resolution just as they vetoed the two previous western draft Resolutions proposed to the Security Council in October and February.  This is consistent with their foreign policy position, which I discussed in my previous post.  Once again there appears to have been a concerted attempt to pressure and embarrass Russia and China to change their position with Obama actually telephoning Putin on the eve of the Security Council vote in what appears to have been a last ditch attempt to persuade Russia to support or at least to refrain from opposing the Resolution.  Once again this attempt was a failure.

Of greater concern to the US and the other western powers should be signs of growing exasperation with their Syrian policy on the part of the Security Council’s non permanent members.  Whereas in October and February Russia and China acted alone in voting against the western proposed draft Resolutions on this occasion they were joined by Pakistan and South Africa, which refused to vote for the Resolution but instead abstained.  The summary of the discussion of the Resolution in the Security Council provided by the UN’s information department  (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/sc10714.doc.htm) shows that the Pakistani ambassador complained that a Resolution under Chapter VII was inappropriate whilst the South African ambassador complained that the draft Resolution was unbalanced since it made demands and threats of the Syrian government but no counterbalancing demands of the Syrian rebels.  The summary also shows the obvious and continuing skepticism of the Indian ambassador who however as on previous occasions suppressed his doubts to vote for a Resolution one senses he thinks is wrong.

In summary what we have seen in the Security Council is yet another attempt by the western powers to use the authority of the Security Council to engineer the overthrow of the Syrian government.  Though the Resolution purportedly was drafted to support Annan’s peace plan in reality it sacrifices Annan’s peace plan to that objective.  Annan’s peace plan calls for a ceasefire to be followed by negotiations between the parties to set up a transitional government.  The draft Resolution instead demands the unilateral disarmament of the Syrian government in the face of a rebel offensive.  In the meantime though the Syrian government has appointed a negotiator to negotiate with the rebels in accordance with Annan’s peace plan the rebels have not only not appointed such a negotiator but are continuing with western support to demand that Assad resigns and the Syrian government dissolves itself before they enter into talks.  The only purpose of talks would then presumably be to transfer power to them.

I will finish this post with one final observation.  The draft Resolution vetoed yesterday was presented to the Security Council eight days ago.  The rebel offensive against Damascus began six days ago.  The draft Resolution was however clearly written with the purpose of helping that offensive.  The demand that the Syrian government withdraw its heavy weapons from Damascus and the cities under threat of sanctions and  with the ultimate threat of military action cannot be interpreted in any other way.  Since the draft was prepared and presented to the Security Council before the rebel offensive began this can only mean that the persons who drafted the Resolution knew in advance that the rebel offensive was going to take place.

In other words the text of the Resolution provides further confirmation of the collusion (to put it no higher) between the western powers and the rebels in the conduct of military operations.  This together with the way Annan’s peace plan has been sacrificed to the objective of overthrowing the Syrian government shows where the real responsibility for the continuing violence in Syria lies.

Postscript: Shortly after I completed the above post confirmation was received that the Security Council voted unanimously to extend the UN observer mission by 30 days.  Here is the text of the relevant Resolution as provided by the UN information department

http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/sc10718.doc.htm

The text of the Resolution extending the UN monitoring mission was drafted by the British government.  An alternative draft text was proposed by Pakistan but was not adopted.  The difference between the two drafts is that the British text intimates that the UN monitoring mission will only be extended  beyond 30 days if the UN Secretary General reports that fighting has ceased and that a peace process is underway.

Following the defeat of the draft Resolution on 19th July 2012 the US government said it was opposed to any continuation of the UN monitoring mission.  The ostensible reason was that there is no ceasefire or peace process for the UN monitoring mission to supervise.  The real reason is that the UN monitoring mission has performed its functions impartially and has refused to take sides against the Syrian government.  For example it refused to blame the Syrian government for the Houla massacre and after carrying out an investigation it contradicted rebel claims of a massacre at Tremseh by confirming that the dead in that town were armed rebels who had been killed by the Syrian army during a battle.

There is however overwhelming support in the Security Council for the continuation of the UN monitoring mission.  Rather than be put in the position of having to veto the Resolution proposed by Pakistan extending the UN monitoring mission the US and its allies arranged for Britain to propose an alternative draft Resolution extending the UN monitoring mission for 30 days but making any further extension dependent upon a favourable report from the Secretary General.  Rather than press for the Pakistani draft, which would have faced a US veto, which would have brought the UN monitoring mission to an immediate end, Russia and China supported the British draft, which at least allows for the UN monitoring mission to remain in existence for a further 30 days.  At the conclusion of this period there will likely be a renewed struggle in the Security Council to decide whether the UN monitoring mission should be further extended or not.  Given US hostility to the UN monitoring mission its prospects frankly looks bleak.

To my mind the importance of this episode is that it shows how opinion on the Security Council is shifting.  Pakistan seems to have gone over completely to the Russian and Chinese side as witness its absention from the British supported Resolution yesterday and its decision today to propose a draft Resolution apparently extending the UN monitoring mission unconditionally.  The fact that the US and Britain had to propose an alternative Resolution extending the UN monitoring mission by 30 days shortly after the US had said publicly that it was opposed to any further extension of the UN monitoring mission shows that on this question the US and its allies are in a minority on the Security Council and that they were forced to propose their own draft Resolution extending the UN monitoring mission to avoid the embarrassment of being forced to exercise their veto.