Later today, the Security Council will probably manage to pass a Resolution on Syria for the first time since the country’s civil war began over two years ago. The draft text, agreed by all five permanent members, requires Syria to surrender its arsenal of chemical weapons.
But it also amounts to a prize example of the notion that securing a Resolution is an end in itself. You can spot the huge compromises that America, Britain and France have had to make in order to reach agreement with Russia and China.
So, the Security Council will declare itself “deeply outraged” by the poison gas attacks of August 21, but not deeply outraged enough to actually say who was to blame. Remember how President Obama said on Tuesday that failing to pin responsibility on the Assad regime was an “insult to human reason”? Well, the Security Council will insult reason in just such a way – and it will do so with American approval.
And what happens if Assad breaks the deal and fails to disarm? The very last clause of the draft says the Security Council “decides, in the event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorised transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.”
To “impose measures”? What measures? The Security Council would presumably have to make a further decision on this, giving Russia and China the chance to veto any punishment at all. So from Assad’s point of view, this draft Resolution allows him to escape the censure of the UN for the poison gas attacks and, if he chooses not to disarm, the Security Council is threatening no more than to hold another meeting to decide how to respond.
Is this game, set and match to Russia and Assad? Not quite. At least the Resolution will give legal force to the agreement to disarm Syria of chemical weapons. And the Security Council has finally achieved unity on Syria for the first time since the crisis began. But this is lowest-common-denominator diplomacy of the most obvious kind.