A bad week for the UN Security Council


A bad week for the UN Security Council

By almost all measures, the post-Second World War landscape is more peaceful, stable and prosperous than what came before. For starters, it has not witnessed anything resembling the two devastating world wars that in many ways defined the 20th century and which came a mere 20 years apart. Much of the current relative peace and prosperity is due to the set of institutions that was created by the international community for the primary purpose of preventing another global conflagration. Several institutions, none more important that the United Nations, were established to promote the peaceful resolution of conflict and mutually beneficial trade and cultural exchanges. 
However, despite the best efforts of the international community, as represented by the United Nations Security Council — the body tasked with maintaining global peace — the world periodically finds itself virtually helpless in the face of flagrant violations of not only the UN charter but also the organizing principles on which this international order rests. This week is proving to be such a juncture.
It is unfortunate that, when historians and political scientists speak about the long peace that has prevailed in much of the world since the end of the Second World War, they often qualify their assertion by stressing that some regions have been something of an exception to the rule, in that they have experienced significant political turmoil and violence. The Middle East, unfortunately, is often cited as an example. Although virtually all the countries in the region have made significant strides as measured by various socioeconomic indicators, the political unrest that has impacted several countries since the so-called Arab Spring in 2011 has once against painted a foreboding picture for the region, despite the fact that many nations in the Middle East continue to enjoy peace and prosperity. 
However, with the conflict in Syria reverting to its earlier, brutally violent stages, and the Houthi rebels and their Iranian sponsors preventing the situation in Yemen from stabilizing, one wonders whether the international community and the institutions it has created are still as relevant as they once were.
Last week saw a protracted negotiating process that pitted Russia, Iran and the Bashar Assad regime in Syria against the United States and much of the international community, as the latter tried to halt the Assad regime’s onslaught against the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. Despite the well-documented claims of civilian casualties numbering in the hundreds, including many women and children, the powers of the Security Council struggled for several days to come to an agreement to bring the violence to a temporary halt and allow humanitarian relief and the medical evacuation of injured civilians. 
When the US and Russia were finally able to get on the same page and a resolution passed that demanded a ceasefire for 30 days, Iran — and Turkey — asserted that the resolution does not apply to what it called “fighting terrorists.” Within hours, the fighting was back and images of children covered in soot and blood and gasping for air from the ill effects of what, by all indications, was another chlorine attack by the Assad regime dominated television news shows and social media.

With the conflict in Syria reverting to its earlier, brutally violent stages and the situation in Yemen far from stable, one wonders whether the international community and the institutions it created are as relevant as they once were.

Fahad Nazer 

A mere two days later, the UN Security Council found itself once again unable to move decisively as a resolution sponsored by the United Kingdom that would have condemned Iran for providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with missile technology in violation of an arms embargo was vetoed by Russia. The veto was met with a stern warning from US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who said: “If Russia is going to use its veto to block action against Iran’s dangerous and destabilizing conduct, then the United States and our partners will need to take actions against Iran that the Russians cannot block.”
Although a Russian-sponsored resolution extending the mandate of a panel of experts monitoring the weapons embargo in Yemen and extending sanctions against several entities did pass unanimously, the resolution did not make reference to Iran’s well-documented role in providing the Houthi rebels with missile technology, parts and launching systems.
The Security Council has shown that it can be an effective forum for conflict prevention and, occasionally, a venue where collective action can be taken to repel aggression, as was the case during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. However, the inability of the international community to put a stop to the carnage in Syria will surely be a dark chapter in the history of the Security Council and the world in general. 
Similarly, the Security Council not holding Iran accountable for violating Yemen-related resolutions will also compel some critics to question its utility. Nevertheless, the UN and its Security Council is still one of very few institutions that can truly claim to represent the will of the international community due to its near-universal membership. 
Syria, perhaps more than any other conflict in recent years, shows that there is virtually no such thing as a “local conflict” today. The world must act and act fast before Syria jeopardizes the long peace, no matter how one defines it.
Fahad Nazer is a political consultant to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington and an International Fellow at the National Council on US Arab Relations. He does not represent or speak on behalf of either organization. Twitter: @fanazer
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