The celebrations of the UN day on October 24 saw a disappointing occasion in the organization’s history. Once again, a resolution on the Syrian Civil War was vetoed by the Russian Federation. For the fourth time in 2017, a veto has been cast in the UN security council.
The resolution regarded, as in all other cases this year, Syria. Following the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2015, the UN security council created the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) together with the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). At that point in time, all 15 members of the security council voted for the resolution. In 2016, the investigation by JIM was prolonged for a year and continued to report to the security council about the usage of chemical weapons in Syria.
However, this week the investigation came to an end when the Russian Federation cast its veto against the resolution prolonging the investigation mandate. The United States’ ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, expressed her criticism, claiming that there were no limits for Russia’s dedication to keep its ally, Bashar al-Assad in power. The Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia responded to this by stating that Russia desired to see the report put forward by JIM on October 26, before prolonging the mandate.
Last time OPCW came with a report on the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, in June this year, the United States responded with missile attacks on regime air bases.
Consequences following this week’s veto are that as of now, there is no investigation regarding usage of chemical weapons in Syria. Moreover, it has become much easier to get away with using chemical weapons since the watchdog on the ground in Syria has been removed.
“Russia vetoes UN resolution on Syria chemical attack probe” The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/24/russia-vetoes-un-resolution-syria-chemical-attack-probe/
Throughout 2016 and so far during 2017, the number of North Korean missile tests has increased – and with those increasing numbers, tensions have risen as well. On the Korean peninsula, following North Korean missiles plunging into the territorial waters of Japan and South Korea, the United States and its president have responded with threatening choice of language. On August 6, the UN Security Council acted on the North Korean issue, imposing new, extensive, sanctions on the Communist dictatorship. However, these new sanctions have provoked new threats from Pyongyang.
On July 4, the North Korean leadership in Pyongyang claimed to have for the first time succeeded in testing one of their Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), capable of reaching American territory. Following this dangerous development in the region, the UN Security Council held a meeting where it was agreed that new sanctions were to be imposed. That the People’s Republic of China complied with these new sanctions was vital, due to the country’s veto powers and since they often are considered an ally to Kim Jong-un. After the UNSC’s decision, more threats were made from North Korea, directed towards primarily the United States, and its military base on the island Guam in the Pacific Ocean. This sparked anger in Washington, and President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with ‘fire and fury’ if North Korea further provoked the US. Currently the situation is at a tense standstill.
Sanctions have been imposed earlier on North Korea, however, the issue has also been a major platform of disagreement; primarily between the United States and China. One could ask whether more decisive action earlier from the UNSC might have contributed to a less volatile and dangerous situation in North East Asia. If North Korea has acquired weapons of mass destruction, these new sanctions could continue to destabilize the situation. The Security Council must henceforth stay unified and work together to solve the situation, putting national politics aside.
An old, and previously discussed question becomes current again, with China and Russia using their veto to stop yet another resolution concerning al-Assad’s use of banned chemical weapons.
Several reports have been published by various agencies concerning the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. In September 2016, for instance, the UN’s watchdog regarding chemical weapons – the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – reported that the Syrian regime, alongside such groups as the so-called Islamic State had been using chlorine gas, among other prohibited chemical weapons (see Report on chemical weapons causes Security Council frictions, Sept. 4th, 2016). Any action, however, from the UN against this use of chemical weapons, was blocked by Russia and China, who have ties to the regime in Damascus.
A week ago, yet another resolution in the Security Council was stopped by the use of the veto. For the seventh time since the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, Russia has used its veto right to prevent any sanctions or UN actions directed towards President al-Assad. Despite the fact that President al-Assad agreed on destroying all chemical weapons back in 2013, OPCW has found evidence on the use of chemical weapons by governmental forces three times since then. The resolution put forward on Tuesday, February 28th, would, if voted through, have banned the sale of helicopters to Syria and led to sanctions against multiple Syrian officials. According to Russia’s UN delegation, the veto was cast due to “suspicious sources” in the report about chemical weapons, and that it “undermined” the current peace attempts in Kazakhstan, orchestrated by the Russians. The Chinese delegation motivated its decision by their unwillingness to lose “momentum in the peace process.”
However, this use of the veto power from Russia and China to prevent any action against the Syrian regime, puts the international community in a paralyzed state, unable to act against human rights violations. Besides the tradegy of the suffering of the Syrian people, this behavoir further risks starting a trend where the use of chemical weapons by other states can go unpunished if they have the “right” allies within the Security Council. Such a scenario would deplete any work against such weapons, leaving them effectless.
UN Press: https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/sc12737.doc.htm
BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-39116854