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UN Week – 7/23/12

July 24, 2012

This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

By John and Douglas Carey

In this issue: A reader’s reactions on UNESCO and mediation; US tactics on Syria.

Here is reaction to last week’s material on World Heritage Sites in the Holy Land and on mediation, from Patrick Flood, a retired US Foreign Service Officer with in-depth knowledge of and experience in these aspects of US foreign policy.

“There is much food for thought in your brief program notes for this week’s program.  On UNESCO, with which I was engaged in my very first assignment at the State Department, I have always thought that we acted against our own best interests when we later withdrew for several years, and now again when we stopped contributing. We were isolated both times (at least I cannot think of anyone who joined us and stayed with us for very long) and on balance I think we have lost more than we gained in several respects. We do benefit in positive and real if intangible ways from participating in UNESCO programs and activities. And I can’t see how withdrawal or withholding dues has helped move the Middle Eastern peace process forward a single inch.

“The second piece, on mediation, stimulated some thoughts on the possible reasons why international and domestic mediation might ordinarily call for different approaches by the mediator.  It seems to me that there are factors in many, probably most international mediation efforts that call for the kind of approach Amb. Pardew advocates. These factors include the nature of the disputants (states, armies, rebel groups, political or ethnic factions, and the like), the stakes involved (political and military power over people and territory, or major economic assets), a largely anarchic context (the world of sovereign states in interstate disputes,  or in civil wars and rebellions, the absence of stable institutions and centralized authority), and the proximate possibility or actual presence of armed violence. These are probably not the key driving factors in most of the kinds of disputes that one finds in the domestic context in a law-governed society. Perhaps labor-management disputes come a bit closer to the international sort, because a strike is always possible, but at least in our society and in similar countries these and other disputes are worked out within a system of law and procedures that both sides presume as a starting point.” Thank you, Patrick Flood, for these astute observations.

US tactics on Syria.

US Ambassador Susan E. Rice stated on July 19th:

“This is the third time in ten months that two members, Russia and China, have prevented the Security Council from responding credibly to the Syrian conflict. The first two vetoes they cast were very destructive. This veto is even more dangerous and deplorable. The resolution just vetoed demanded all parties to cease violence. It invoked Chapter VII to make more binding on the parties their obligation to implement the Joint Special Envoy’s six-point plan and effect the political transition plan agreed by the Action Group in Geneva on June 30. And, it threatened the only party with heavy weapons—the Syrian regime—with sanctions if it continued to use these weapons brutally against its own cities and citizens.

“But it would not even impose sanctions at this stage. And despite paranoid, if not disingenuous, claims by some to the contrary, it would in no way authorize nor even pave the way for foreign military intervention. What this resolution would have done was to provide the political support to the UN mission that might have given it a fighting chance to accomplish its mandate. It is a shame this Council was unwilling to do so.”

Also on July 19th Ambassador Rice said:  “It’s pitiful and deeply regrettable that again today Russia and China, for the third time, have vetoed a resolution that garnered the overwhelming support of this Security Council. The Security Council has put its best efforts behind the UN mission in Syria, and we commend the brave men and women of that mission for their dedicated service. Yet it was plain from the beginning that if this Council were unwilling or unable to back-up that UN mission with the tools at our disposal—even the basic tools of political support to indicate that if our decisions are not adhered to then there will be consequences—meant that this mission could not succeed.

“Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan made it very clear that what he sought from this Council was a unified message of consequences on the parties for non-compliance. The Secretary General of the organization repeatedly appealed for this Council to assume its responsibilities under the UN charter, use Chapter VII, and make it clear that there will be consequences for non-compliance. That is what the resolution that was vetoed today aimed to do. It aimed, in the first order, to provide the UN monitors and civilians on the ground with the political support of this Security Council, the last best chance they had for their mission to potentially succeed. Instead, we have seen the situation—the status quo—persist as the situation deteriorates. And as I said in the Council, the status quo is by no means static. It is a rapidly deteriorating conflict that is costing hundreds of lives each day and that threatens to engulf the region in a wider war. That is the consequence of the third veto by our colleagues on the Council today.”

Finally, the next day, July 20th, Ambassador Rice was able to say at a Security Council “stakeout”: “Today’s vote to extend UNSMIS for a final period of 30 days was not the resolution the United States had hoped to adopt in the first instance. Our strong preference was to adopt the resolution that was regrettably vetoed yesterday in order to give the men and women of UNSMIS a final, last, best opportunity to succeed in the performance of their mission, by backing them up with the full weight of this Council and its commitment to use the tools at our disposal to ensure the implementation of our decisions and to do as the Joint Special Envoy and the Secretary General asked us to do, which was to ensure that there are consequences on the parties for noncompliance.

“In the absence of that, the Council fortunately was able to come together today. The decision we took was to extend the UNSMIS mission for a final period of 30 days to allow it to withdraw safely and orderly—in an orderly fashion. And we hope very much that the withdrawal will be conducted with a principle priority placed on the security of UN personnel. We have also said in this resolution that, should—in the unlikely event—the situation on the ground change substantially and the government cease the use of heavy weapons and the level of violence become reduced to the extent that indeed UNSMIS again can not only operate freely but perform and fulfill the mandate that we gave it, then we would be prepared—in that unlikely circumstance—to revisit the question of whether UNSMIS has continued utility.”

So at least Russia and China will allow UNSMIS personnel to withdraw from Syria in safety. This is not much to have gained from such long and intense negotiations, but we can certainly say to Ambassador Rice and her allies, “Thanks for trying so hard; you did all you could.”

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