Security Council Unites Against Syria in Hariri Slaying
Posted by Suzanne Nossel
The UN registered another point of proof that the rumors of its demise are exaggerated: the Security Council coalesced around a tough consensus resolution challenging Syria to cooperate fully with the continuing investigation into the death of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, or face consequences. Algeria, China and Russia all went along along once the US, France and Britain agreed to strike language referencing sanctions if the Syrian obligations are not met, with the proviso that the resolution be adopted under Chapter Seven of the UN's Charter which specifically references enforcement mechanisms including sanctions and military force.
While this was not unexpected, nor should the accomplishment be dismissed. The world is, at least for now, united in isolating a rogue state. We have been unable to achieve similar with respect to Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and other outlaw regimes. The real proof of the UN's mettle, of course, will come only if - - as seems almost inevitable - - Bashar Assad's compliance with the investigation is incomplete and further measures are warranted.
But in the meantime let's touch briefly on a few reasons why, at least thus far, UN diplomacy is working better than usual in this case. The cohesion and will to act derive in part from the specifics of the incident itself - a public assassination of a wildly popular former leader by the government of an occupying country. But certain other aspects of what's unfolding transcend the Hariri case itself and have implications for US diplomacy at the UN:
1. Generation of Objective Evidence - Innuendo, circumstantial evidence and even US intelligence weren't enough to rally the world against Syria. But the findings of an independent, UN-appointed expert prosecutor were. We dismissed the role of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq but had weapons been there, in retrospect it seems incontrovertible that the teams would eventually have found them and that, if they did, the UNSC would have been forced to act. Rather than expecting the UN members to take our word for things, the extra time and effort to allow them to gather facts objectively will tend to pay off.
2. Patience - The simple fact that the US is in no hurry for Syrian regime change and has been willing to allow the Mehlis investigation to run its course makes a big difference. Behind the scenes of today's resolution was undoubtedly an agreement that if the Syrians indeed stonewall, sanctions will come later. The UN moves painfully slowly, but allowing enough time to quiet all doubts and to "give a chance" to recalcitrant regimes is sometimes what it takes to build consensus.
3. No (Public) Foregone Political Conclusions - That the US is too mired up in Iraq and other things to be able to handle Syrian disintegration helps a lot here. If Algeria, China and Russia were convinced we wanted Assad out and quickly, they'd be far less likely to accede to the ratcheting up of pressure on the regime. By contrast, because the US made so nakedly clear that it would be satisfied with nothing less than Saddam Hussein's ouster, other countries resisted all forms of cooperation with us on Iraq for fear of abetting a US-led coup. Even if Bush and Co. believe that nothing less than toppling Assad will do the trick, the decision not to flaunt their long-term designs is making it easier to sustain consensus.