UN Security Council Dynamics on Syria

by Security Council Report, UN NY, July, 2015

Expected Council Action

In July, Council members expect to receive their regular monthly briefings on the chemical weapons and humanitarian tracks in Syria. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is also expected to report back to Council members on the political track.

At press time, several initiatives by various Council members on the issues of chlorine bombs, violation of medical neutrality, besieged communities and aerial bombardment were ongoing. However, it was unclear which, if any, of these would gain traction in the coming weeks and months…

Council and Wider Dynamics

Despite overwhelming indications that various resolutions threatening consequences for lack of implementation have continually been breached, it is unlikely that Council members will push for follow-up measures, such as targeted sanctions or another attempt at an ICC referral. The assumption that Russia would veto any effort specific to the government remains a deterrent. Any discussion of a Council-authorised no-fly zone is also a non-starter among Council members, due to Russia’s veto power but also because of the lack of US interest in pursuing this course of action.

On the political track, Council members assume de Mistura will likely want to limit expectations about whether conditions on the ground have shifted enough to untangle what has become known as the “Assad knot” enshrined in the Geneva Communiqué—i.e. trying to find openings between Iran’s and Russia’s support for the Assad regime and the position of the P3 and their Arab allies that Assad must go. Council members acknowledge that the Geneva consultations may be little more than a place holder until there is a major shift on the part of the US or Russia to tilt the balance toward a political solution.

On the chemical weapons track, fundamental differences remain. The US has maintained that it views resolution 2209 to be a final warning to Damascus before consequences are sought for its use of chlorine bombs. Russia insists that the Council cannot apportion blame to Damascus since only the OPCW has the capacity to fully assess the situation. While the OPCW fact-finding mission can investigate whether chlorine has been used as a weapon, its mandate prohibits it from attributing responsibility.

France is the penholder on Syria overall. Jordan, New Zealand and Spain lead on humanitarian issues. In practice, however, most texts need to be agreed between Russia and the US prior to seeking agreement by the broader Council.

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