Gassing International Law
By David M. Crane
(Re-published from The Jurist | Nov. 6, 2017) The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should not ignore or walk away from the alleged use of any prohibited weapon, such as chemicals, as it signals it is permissible to violate the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and erodes international norms related to such weapons. Further, it signals that countries with deep ties to P5 (U.K., U.S., France, Russia, China) are outside the scope of UNSC authority, therefore creating a bigger issue of eroding the international authority of the UNSC and jeopardizing the foundation of international law.
On Tuesday, October 24, 2017, Russia vetoed the resolution extending the mandate of the investigators probing chemical weapons attacks in Syria. [JURIST report] [Meeting Record] Following the chemical attack in 2015, Russia and America created the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to investigate the presence/use of chemical weapons in Syria, which found 27 active production facilities. In its most recent report late last month, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it had verified the destruction of 25 of the 27 chemical weapons production facilities declared by Syria and continued to prepare an inspection to confirm the current condition of the last two. The vote on the resolution was in advance of the JIM investigative report (presented Thursday October 26). The report sought to identify the party responsible for a deadly April 4 attack in the rebel-controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib that killed and sickened scores of civilians allegedly using sarin gas. Shortly after that attack, the United States launched an airstrike on a Syrian air base and accused the al-Assad regime of carrying out the gas attack.
This action by Russia is primarily concerned with the sovereignty of Syria and stresses the maxim that you cannot enter a sovereign territory without concrete evidence of wrong doing. Further Russia believes they face possible retaliation by Syria and/or rebel groups present in Syria. Finally, Russia is concerned that there has been a blurring of lines between the conflict against Syria and the conflict against ISIS. Additionally Russia is supporting the regime and has economic ties to Syria. They do not want the US to gain any influence in Syria.
The media and various member states are concerned that the UNSC is impotent in assisting in Syria due to the P5 structure. The UNSC and the UN system are shouldering the blame for little progress in Syria. The broader discussion criticizes the entire UN system as being outdated and ineffective.
The UN is not impotent, as it has facilitated international cooperation on the conflict, resulting in ceasefires, the initial formation of JIM, condemnation of acts, and investigation of potential war crimes. Further, the UN is serving its purpose as a neutral forum for these discussions. Syria has not simply become a battlefield upon which America and Russia are fighting, nor are we seeing a return to interstate war. Therefore, the UN is working as a forum for these issues. Further negotiations need to be based on interests and relationships as nationalistic and realist strategies fail within the cooperative international organizational model …