Tuesday, 10 September 2013

French resolution at UN on Syria is mischievous.

The resolution proposed by France at the UN following the Russian proposition that Syria put its chemical weapons beyond use is unfortunate if not disingenuous.

France knows that by including a condemnation of the Syrian regime for the chemical attack of 21st August it would be unacceptable to Russia and thus courts rejection. Indeed, Russia has already called it 'unacceptable'. The French resolution promotes division in the security council at a time when it could be moving towards unanimity. It is inept at best; at worst it is mischievous. What is needed now is  for the UN to move forward on setting up a viable process for decommissioning Syria's chemical arsenal.

None of this will be easy in the middle of a civil war. It has been suggested it would require a cease-fire to ensure safety for the inspectors and to ensure the weapons did not get into the wrong hands or go missing. The Obama administration is also not short of mischief making. It calls for 'swift' action, when it knows this is not possible.

It will take time to prepare the ground, to broker a cease-fire, to install a decommissioning team. It is not at all sure the opposition in Syria will be willing to play ball and nor are the opposition forces united. Such a process will be far from 'swift'. And even supposing a team can be put on the ground in Syria, there will be setbacks. The process will stumble at some stage. That is par for the course in such matters. Nevertheless it is the best proposition on the table.

Meanwhile, Obama is rapidly losing credibility on his 'red line'. He has lost the initiative which passed to Russia via an inept remark by Secretary of State, John Kerry. It appears now that the idea was first mooted in discussions at the G20, and yet the Obama administration still appears to have been wrong-footed on it.

Nevertheless for Obama it is a way forward. All sides must now work hard for its adoption and implementation. Finally the UN may be able to play a worthwhile part in ensuring safety of the Syrian people and ensuring chemical stockpiles do not get into the hands of terrorists and a regime mindful to use them.

Postscript

Obama and Hollande rightly say that the threat of a military strike against the Syrian regime has played a major part in the positive response of the Assad regime to the Russian proposal. Equally, it has to be said, that Russia would not have been able to approach the Assad regime without retaining close relations. Political solutions to seemingly intractable problems most often require a willingness to engage with 'the enemy'. Setting unattainable conditions as laid out at the UN by France is unhelpful and obstructive to a diplomatic solution.

Post-postscript

We can only hope that the road map to eliminating the Syrian stock of chemical weapons is a success. It is a difficult task and some experts consider it to be an unrealistic time-table for the stocks to be destroyed by September next year. In a war-torn country this may not be possible, and so what then? The US and its allies, France and the UK, want a military strike to remain a possible response. With a military strike still on the table, it will not be in the interest of the opposition forces to cooperate in allowing chemical weapons decommissioning to progress. A lot will depend on how much security the Assad regime can provide and on the location of the stockpiles. There are a lot of 'ifs', although it is a step in the right direction. Russia and the USA are at last working together on the Syrian conflict. How much agreement can last will depend as much on domestic US politics than on the real situation in Syria.



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