|The Reluctant World Sheriff|
Dispute between Russia and the United States over the terms of a path to rid Syria of its chemical weapons has caused fissures in the latest round of diplomatic efforts.Disagreement between the two chief negotiators over the repercussions of a potential failure by Syria to comply has the potential to unravel an agreement.Syria is supposed to begin the process of turning over its chemical weapons stockpile next week, but Russia and the United States disagree on how to hold Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad accountable.In short, Russia doesn't want to punish Syria militarily for failure to turn over its weapons stockpile and Washington wants to keep the threat of military action front and center.
The Sticking Point:
The sticking point is a UN-blessed and binding resolution, agreed to upfront (in the next few days and passed by the Security Council, with Russia and China both voting for it, or at least, not vetoing it) that provides for the automatic use of force by member states should Syria not meet the timelines and other obligations set out in the UN resolution.
Russia has been steadfast in refusing to allow such a resolution to pass, and seems to be sticking to its expressed view that any decision to use force be deferred for a later Security Council meeting, once Syria had failed to meet the obligations. Of course, such an agreement would retain the Russian and Chinese veto right, and possibly prevent any recourse by force under the resolution.
Obama, the French and the British are pushing for a resolution which effectively defangs any Russian and Chinese veto in advance. Their reasoning is that there must be a credible threat of force by UN members if the identification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons is to work. Take away that threat, and they expect the Syrian government to balk and renege on its commitments.
The Solution – a Twin Track, Keep Your Powder Dry alternative:
It is very probable that Russia will win this one. So, should Obama agree to a watered down resolution that does not permit automatic recourse to force to enforce compliance, but channels the response into a subsequent Security Council resolution (leaving the use of force under Chapter VII or any other provision up to a later Security Council decision, which either Russia or China could veto)?
In my view, Obama should agree to the Russian proposal, with one or two reservations. So far, Obama has succeeded – more by luck than by design – to move out of a position where America (and the French) were the only UN-members prepared to use force to deny Syria the use of its chemical weapons. Obama’s position is that this is a law agreed to by the UN members, and is designed to deter other dicatators from using chemical weapons or nuclear weapons contrary to the law.
Right now, Obama has managed to move the discussion and decision-making on to the floor of the Security Council. Many other UN members are also being involved in the negotiations (middle Eastern states, others). All of this is consistent with Obama’s fundamental foreign policy position that the SIM method is the best way to handle such conflicts, if possible, rather than unilateral action by the US as a self-appointed world sheriff.
Obama’s major reasoning behind his Stakeholder Involvement Model (or SIM) of foreign policy is that the involvement of people and nations with an interest in the problem is the best way to arrive at a solution that will be legitimate, will be enforced by those stakeholders (or, at least, by some others, and not just by the US as world sheriff).
So pass the Security Council resolution, even if it does not require a pre-agreed use of force under Chapter VII. This means all UN members have a stake in the enforcement of the identification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
But Obama should make sure that the wording of the agreed Security Council resolution does not, in any express or implied way, prevent any member of the UN from in future taking just such unilateral action (involving force) as the US President resolved upon with respect to Syria, and the French,too.
If Obama makes sure that this “keep the powder dry” clause is inserted into the Russian resolution, or at the very least is not prevented by the wording of the Russian resoltution, and the reservation to the US of its legal right to use force against Syria on its own (or with other nations) should Syria not identify and destroy its chemical weapons as laid down in the Russian resolution, is publicly stated to be on the table, then he can have the US agree to Russia’s position.
Obama will have reserved the right to use force (under its current legal rights that it is exercising to uphold the earlier law regarding the prohibition of the use of weapons of mass destruction); this Syria will have to consider or risk an American missile and bomb attack similar to the one so narrowly averted by Senator Kerry’s ‘gaffe’.
The twin-track, keep your powder dry approach will work.