Thursday, July 19, 2012

An American in the UN Security Council

Susan Rice [no relation except possibly a state of mind]
It's a win/win.

If the Security Council had approved a Chapter 7 resolution on Syria, the Russians and Chinese would have been tied into subsequent sanctions, including possible military action.  Because China and Russia vetoed such a resolution, the US is off the hook and can moan about the obstruction of humanitarian goals by the evil Russians and Chinese.

The law seems not to be on the American side.  The last time there was such a resolution - on Libya - it was approved unanimously 15-0, and then used as a justification for sustained military intervention by NATO. The subsequent "no-fly zone" resolution was approved 10-0 with five abstentions, the BRIC states and Germany.  This was not wholehearted approval, and the absence of a veto remarkable. The Chinese and Russians clearly felt burned however, and said so, and were vigilant about future devious tactics.

I say "devious" because it's clear from the UN Charter that one state cannot interfere in the affairs of another state, and certainly not to engineer "regime change."  It's not obvious that the Security Council can order "regime change" either, and I gather Russia and China don't want to set a precedent that it can.  That was where they felt burned on Libya with Resolutions 1970 and 1973:  a "no-fly zone" became a six month bombing campaign.

Of course, it's obvious that the Russians have a vested interest in Chechnya, and the Chinese in Tibet, and if the UNSC precedent in Libya is allowed to stand, there is nothing to stop the Security Council intervening in any state that incurs its displeasure, like Canada over the sovereignty of Quebec.

And despite all the fine words about the "Responsibility to Protect" it's not clear how this works in international law.  If Rwanda were to happen all over again, it's not obvious what the UN or anybody else would actually do, even if military intervention were to be approved unanimously by the Security Council. All of which is to say that any kind of intervention in Syria is fraught with uncertainty, and recent interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are anything but reassuring.  All three look like disasters, although the jury is still out on Libya.  In fact, the jury is hard to find in Libya and might remain out indefinitely.

To date, nobody knows how to do R2P, which is not to say it isn't a worthwhile idea, just very difficult.  So was the Magna Carta.