The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Saturday voted unanimously to authorize up to 300 unarmed military observers to travel to Syria and try to bring about compliance with the peace plan proposed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, according to CNN. Their mandate is for 90 days.
Ironically, the relative positions of Russia and the West are somewhat reversed from where they have been in the past. Previous, Security Council resolutions on Syria were vetoed by Russia and China, because they criticized Syria's president Bashar al-Assad and threatened sanctions.
China has been supporting al-Assad's massacre of unarmed demonstrators because China doesn't want anyone to criticize them massacring Tibetans and Uighurs. Russia has been supporting al-Assad's massacre of unarmed demonstrators because they make a lot of money selling weapons to Syria, because they've used the opportunity to strengthen their naval base off Syria's coast, and because they've been able to demand that al-Assad give the Russians control of Syria's oil and gas fields, as we've recently reported. (See "21-Apr-12 World View -- Russia's relationship with Syria deepens as the West dithers") Russia and China apparently now believe that they have a free hand to do what they want with Syria, since they're convinced the West will do nothing to stop the Syrian slaughter.
So Russia and China have vetoed UNSC resolutions on Syria in the past, but they're leading the way in supporting the new resolution because it's so weak, and because it will permit al-Assad to continue his slaughter unfettered. Russia Today quotes Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. ambassador, as saying:
In fact we are very pleased with the outcome of today’s vote, which happened less than two hours ago. It was Russia who took the initiative in introducing the draft yesterday morning. And it took us just 26 hours to bring it to fruition, to the unanimous vote of the Security Council on a rather complex resolution, both politically and technically, no mean feat by Security Council standards, let me tell you.
But the most important thing is what is going to happen next. Of course, we hope that the monitors are going to be deployed expeditiously. The mandate is very carefully outlined, so it’s very clear both for the monitors what they are expected to do, to the government and the opposition what they are expected to do for the monitoring mission to be successful, both in terms of allowing them to get objective information and in terms of making sure that they operate in an environment of safety and security.
It is also very important that the mandate provided for the monitors in the resolution is fully in line with the understandings which have been reached between the UN secretariat and the Syrian government.
So we are very encouraged that we may be on the right track. And there are some positive indications on the ground as well. Because for instance today the foreign minister of Syria sent a letter to Mr Kofi Annan in which he says that the Syrian government has complied, has implemented one of the very important provisions of the Kofi Annan plan: the provision about pulling out heavy weapons and troops from the cities and from around of cities.
The resolution that was adopted was supposedly a compromise between the Russian and Western positions, but it seems to me at least that Russians got their way on the key issues. Here are the main areas of disagreement, and how they were resolved:
- The West demanded that Syria implement a cease-fire first, before the monitors are sent in. However, Russians demanded that al-Assad be allowed to continue the slaughter and that the monitors be sent in anyway, and that's what's happening.
- The West wanted to threaten further sanctions if Syria did not comply with the terms of the resolution, but at Russian insistence, there will be no threat of sanctions.
- The West wants to be able to use its own helicopters and planes to transport the monitors around the very large country. Syria has claimed that this would violate Syrian sovereignty, and that Syrian pilots and aircraft will transport the monitors around, something that turned the January Arab League observer mission into a fiasco. The Russians sided with al-Assad, of course, but this issue was left unresolved in the resolution.
A compromise was worked out that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will assess the situation on a continuing basis, and decide when the monitors will be introduced. But the question of transport is open.
Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, welcomed the resolution, according to the Guardian, but did not express confidence that it would succeed:
I remain extremely concerned that the Syrian regime is still failing to meet its commitments, and that there has been further violence and the use of heavy weapons since 12 April when a ceasefire should have come into effect.
The Syrian regime must stop immediately troop movements towards population centres; end the use of heavy weapons in civilian areas; and withdraw the military to their barracks. The Syrian regime must ensure that the UN monitoring mission can operate freely and safely, and this must include agreement on the use of air assets.
That's simply not going to happen. Al-Assad will NOT stop using heavy weapons in civilian areas and will NOT withdraw the military to their barracks. America's U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice appeared visibly angry in the televised session over the passage of such a weak resolution. Referring to the 90-day mandate in the resolution, AFP quotes her:
Our patience is exhausted. No one should assume that the United States will agree to renew this mission after 90 days.
She indicated that the U.S. won't wait three months to pursue other courses of action if there's no "meaningful progress." However, such statements have turned out to be empty threats in the past.
Churkin, the Russian envoy, called Rice's remarks "unhelpful." "Making negative predictions sometimes looks like a prophecy which some people want to be borne out."
The wild card: Turkey
Turkey did not participate in the Saturday's UNSC meeting, but holds the key to whatever action might be taken in the future. Turkey does not need UNSC approval for military intervention in Syria, because the legal basis for intervention is already provided by the "Adana Agreement," signed by Turkey and Syria in Adana, Turkey, on October 20, 1998, as we've recently reported.
Turkey has remained very reluctant to proceed further, but as thousands of Syrian refugees continue to pour across the border, they may decide that they have no choice. According to Bloomberg, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that Nato-member Turkey may invoked the Nato charter provision that says that an attack on one is an attack on all. So there is still a possibility of a Nato-led military action into Syria, bypassing the UNSC, but it remains to be seen whether such action will ever be taken.
From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, Syria is in a generational Awakening era, during which a crisis civil war is impossible, or if a civil war starts, then it will fizzle fairly quickly. Despite the fact that pundits continually express fear of a full-scale civil war in Syria, it's quite possible that Syria has already seen the worst of its sectarian violence. If the war fizzles out soon, then Kofi Annan and Russia can take credit for bringing peace to the Mideast.