Thursday, September 26, 2013

In which Lavrov disavows the language of the Security Council resolution his country just agreed to

The U.N. Security Council has agreed on a resolution compelling Syria to give up its chemical weapons for destruction.

The headline is that there is no preauthorization for the use of force if Syria violates the agreement, e.g., by not allowing access to its weapons, or by moving them, or, of course, by using them. But that is no surprise. The reported language with respect to enforcement is in line with that in the Framework Agreement the U.S. and Russia struck on September 14. In fact it is less equivocal than the Framework. The draft resolution
Decides, in the event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorized 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.
Cf. the Framework Agreement:

The United States and the Russian Federation concur that this UN Security Council resolution should provide for review on a regular basis the implementation in Syria of the decision of the Executive Council of the OPCW, and in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
The Framework Agreement's slightly squishy "should" has been replaced by the declaration that the Security Council " impose measures under Chapter VII." The rub, of course, is that Chapter VII includes both military and nonmilitary means of punishing noncompliance. The resolution does however commit to some form of punitive action if Assad violates its terms. [Per update below, however, the Resolution as a whole does not assert its authority under Chapter VII.]

McClatchey reports, however, that Russian foregin minister Lavrov effectively promised to block not only military action but actual enforcement of the resolution as written:
“There will be no enforcement in line with Chapter 7,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
If that is accurately reported, it's a boast of intentional bad faith.  Obviously Russia could block enforcement of the resolution by denying that any alleged future violation took place. But to preemptively declare that there will be no enforcement in line with Chapter 7 is to affirm that Russia's signature is not worth the paper it's printed on.

Even without such a promise it would be all but impossible to imagine a punitive military strike, whether under U.N. auspices or unilaterally by the U.S., in response to Saddam-like games of cat-and-mouse from Assad.  What the agreement probably will accomplish is deterring Assad from using the weapons again -- and will probably lead to the destruction of most of his chemical arsenal.  That's not nothing. Neither is the fact that Assad has already provided a substantial inventory of his chemical weapons arsenal.

The U.S. Congress could put real teeth in the agreement by passing an AUMF authorizing Obama to take military action if Assad violates the agreement. The logic of such a move may seem obvious, but political theorist Joshua Tucker spells it out in game theory terms:
the U.S. should also be able to force Assad to choose option No. 1 by renouncing the “don’t bomb Syria unilaterally” option (i.e., that is, committing unequivocally to bomb Syria should the weapons not be turned over). Of course, in practice it is difficult to commit to using force ahead of time, but one could imagine that if the U.S. Congress turned around tomorrow and unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the use of force against Syria should Assad fail to turn over the chemical weapons, it could have a strong effect in this direction. Thus — again counterintuitively — the best way for Congress to prevent Obama from bombing Syria may be to give the strongest possible endorsement of Obama bombing Syria! Crucially, this would again need to be done before Assad makes his decision, and would need to be conditional on Assad’s decision (i.e., the resolution only goes into force if Assad does not turn over the weapons).
Of course, logical doesn't mean likely. The odds of this Congress passing such an AUMF for this president look even lower than the odds of Assad using the weapons again.

UPDATE, 9/27:  The Wall Street Journal's Joe Lauria spells out the legal framework that makes the enforcement clause less unequivocal than it might be:
The resolution was drawn up under Chapter 5, Article 25 of the U.N. charter, which states that U.N. members "agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present charter."

Diplomats said this made it legally binding.

The resolution wasn't drafted under Chapter 7, which authorizes sanctions or military operations for enforcement.

The proposed resolution says that the Security Council would decide "in the event of noncompliance…to impose measures under Chapter 7" of the U.N. charter.

While mentioning Chapter 7, the draft would require a second resolution to institute enforcement mechanisms, diplomats said. Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, could veto such a measure.

Read more here:
The resolution is "drawn up under Chapter 5, Article 25" in that the last paragraph of the preamble, just prior to the numbered paragraphs stipulating what the resolution "decides," states, "Underscoring that Member States are obligated under Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations to accept and carry out the Council's decisions..."  The preamble to Security Council Resolution 1441, in contrast, the final resolution demanding that Iraq submit to weapons inspections and surrender its weapons of mass destruction, ends by stipulating that the Council is "Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations"-- as do prior Resolutions regarding Iraq's WMD.

Perhaps it is this legal framework that leads the Times' Michael R. Gordon to break up his citation of the enforcement clause to make it sound more equivocal than its language warrants:
The measure notes that “in the event of noncompliance with this resolution, including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic,” the Security Council can decide to “impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.”
Literally, the "measure" doesn't "note' that the Council "can decide"  -- the resolution itself "decides." But you could say that Gordon captures the practical effect.

Read more here:

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