If ever there was a conflict in desperate need of intervention by the United Nations, Syria today is it.
Indeed, the first and foremost purpose of the U.N., as stated in Chapter I, Article 1 of the United Nations Charter is this:
To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.
The U.N. has tragically failed this responsibility in Syria.
The five-year civil war has already claimed nearly 500,000 lives and driven over 11 million from their homes, leading to a horrific humanitarian disaster across the region. The Assad regime has used chemical weapons on its own people, and its forces have flagrantly violated the recent cease-fire. With the escalation of Syrian and Russian air strikes on civilians in Aleppo, and a potential ground invasion by regime forces, the region is descending deeper into chaos. And due to Russia’s involvement in the Syrian crisis, diplomatic relations between the world’s two nuclear superpowers ― the U.S. and Russia ― have dangerously deteriorated.
Obviously, the Syria crisis requires urgent intervention by the U.N.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lamented last week that, although he advocated U.S. military force against the assault on civilians by the Assad regime, he “lost the argument” with other senior U.S. officials.
Asked by Syrian civilians why the U.S. would not intervene, Kerry said:
…we don’t have a basis, our lawyers tell us, unless we have a Security Council resolution.
As it turns out, that is not necessarily so.
True, under current U.N. Security Council rules, any one of the five permanent members (U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France) has unilateral veto power over any substantive resolution of the entire Security Council. And as Russia is militarily supporting the murderous Assad regime, a Security Council resolution to authorize U.N. intervention in the Syrian conflict would surely be vetoed by Russia.
This procedural problem, in which one of the P5 (permanent five Security Council members) could effectively block collective peace-keeping action by the entire United Nations, has long been recognized as a serious threat to global security.
Fortunately, years ago the U.N. had anticipated just this situation, and provided a procedural remedy in such cases.
The 1950 U.N. General Assembly Resolution 377A - “Uniting for Peace” - gives the full General Assembly authority to overrule the Security Council if the Council fails its “primary responsibility” of maintaining peace. And on Syria, the Security Council certainly has clearly failed.
The “Uniting for Peace” Resolution states:
…if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security… …failure of the Security Council to discharge its responsibilities on behalf of all the Member States…does not relieve Member States of their obligations or the United Nations of its responsibilities under the Charter in regard to the maintenance of international peace and security.
In instances where the Security Council fails to act, Resolution 377A provides the authority and obligation for Member States via the General Assembly to intervene in and resolve international conflict. The Resolution provides for convening an Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly within 24 hours of a request by a majority of members, and the General Assembly acting collectively to intervene in conflict. That is precisely what must happen now.
When nations fail, there is global consensus for the international community’s “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) civilians suffering humanitarian disaster.
Secretary Kerry and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power must immediately secure consent from a majority of Member States to convene an Emergency Special Session, propose the General Assembly override the Security Council’s inaction on Syria, and agree to an immediate and robust security intervention by the U.N. in the conflict.
In the longer term, the U.N. must restructure the Security Council process so that one nation, like Russia or China, cannot unilaterally veto collective global action that seeks to counter imperialism or militaristic aggression.
The world community has turned a blind eye toward to plight of Syrian civilians for far too long. Enough is enough. It is time for the U.N. General Assembly to do its job, and bring an immediate and durable peace to Syria.