[Published 29 September 2013]
The passage of Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) on 27 September calling for the collection and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons - is a welcome breakthrough in ending the deadlock that has paralysed the Security Council’s ability to act constructively to end the civil war in Syria for the past thirty months.
It also signifies that diplomacy United Nations style is indeed the art of the possible - aimed at finding the lowest common denominators shared by the five permanent members of the Security Council.
Whilst a protocol has been put in place to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons - the Resolution also offers something of substance to prevent anti-Assad forces using chemical weapons in Syria and to committing the United Nations to search for and locate any such chemical weapons.
Russia has maintained anti-Assad forces used the sarin gas that resulted in the deaths of 1429 civilians on 21 August - but has been unable to conclusively substantiate that claim.
America has made it clear that it considers Syria responsible for the atrocity - as President Obama again made abundantly clear in his address to the General Assembly on 24 September;
“The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood and landed in opposition neighborhoods.
It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.”
President Obama has certainly not done his own credibility any good by continuing to publicly castigate Syria - asserting it is an insult to human reason and the legitimacy of the United Nations for anyone to think otherwise - but then immediately agreeing to Resolution 2118 three days later without any mention of Syria’s culpability.
Yet Russia and America have managed to agree on inserting the following mechanism in Resolution 2118 to try and find out whether the anti-Assad forces were indeed the culprits.
“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; “
The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1540 (2004) under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter on 28 April 2004 - which affirmed that the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery constituted a threat to international peace and security. The resolution obliged States to refrain from supporting by any means non-State actors from developing, acquiring, manufacturing, possessing, transporting, transferring or using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems.
The idea that any member state violating Resolution 1540 would now immediately notify the Security Council and incriminate itself is laughable.
However Resolution 2118 contains three further obligations:
(1) In underscoring:
”that no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer chemical weapons;”
(2) In reaffirming:
“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;
(3) Demanding 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"
Singling out all member States neighbouring the Syrian Arab Republic to report any such activities by non-State actors in Syria is particularly intriguing.
There are eleven UN member states - known as the London Eleven - providing military and financial aid to the Syrian Free Army. Six of these States are Syria’s neighbours - Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UIA Emirates.
Are any of them aware that the Syrian Free Army has acquired chemical weapons? If so - they are unlikely to disclose their information and consequently be forced to withhold further aid - besides explaining why they continued supporting the Syrian Free Army knowing they held chemical weapons.
However - one of Syria’s most immediate neighbours - Israel - is not a member of the London Eleven and is vitally interested in the Security Council taking steps to collect and destroy such weapons.
Resolution 2118 requires Israel to disclose to the Security Council any information it holds on chemical weapons acquired by any anti- Assad forces in Syria. Israel is widely assumed to have extensive knowledge of the existence of such chemical weapons in Syria.
Israel can deny it has any information - but risks being in breach of Resolution 2118 if information in its possession is subsequently revealed.
Russia has cleverly forced the Security Council to determine the truth of Russia’s claim - whilst any evidence supplied by Russia and Israel will be critical in collecting and destroying those chemical weapons.
The impotence of the Security Council in ending non-State actors using chemical weapons in Syria has been brilliantly circumvented by this latest Resolution.
Such is the way convenient marriages are made in the Security Council.