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1. Proposed title
The indecision of the UN Security Council in relation to intervention in Syria (2013) reflects serious weaknesses in the structure of international law. Discuss.
This proposed research provides an in-depth critique of the way that the UN Security Council discharged its functions with respect to the ensuing conflict in Syria, for the purpose of evaluating the extent to which its indecision reflects serious weaknesses in the structure of international law. Further, the proposed research provides a comprehensive synthesis of the international literature on the appropriateness of the current structure of the UN Security Council, for the purpose of deriving recommendations for reform to this institution.
It is the hypothesis of the proposed research that the UN Security Council’s indecision in adopting collective security measures in Syria since the start of its civil war in 2011 has significantly undermined political confidence in the ability of the United Nations to discharge its functions under international law. This is evidenced by recent news reports; for example, Saudi Arabia has recently rejected its appointment to the Security Council on the basis of the UN’s inaction in Syria and Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has publically announced his own dissatisfaction with the institutional structure of the UN Security Council.
It is envisaged that the proposed research will be of value not only to academic and political commentators with a research interest in this field, but also to governments and NGOs who are deliberating on their respective positions within this debate.
3. Background, rationale, significance and academic context of the proposed research
Peaceful anti-government protests and demonstrations commenced across Syria in March 2011, calling for democratic, social and economic reform and, ultimately, an end to Assad’s regime . Almost immediately, the Syrian government deployed its armed forces to quell this uprising, using violent means to suppress these dissidents, who were, in the main, operating under the banner of the Free Syrian Army . The level of violence quickly escalated and by November of 2011 Syria virtually all signs of peaceful protest had disappeared . The civil war which ensued was characterised by extreme violence and human rights abuses . Human rights groups have reported that the majority of human rights violations observed were committed by the armed forces of the Syrian government; namely, the Syrian Arab Army, the Syrian Air Force and the Syrian Military Intelligence . An Independent UN Panel, the Commission of Enquiry on Syria, tasked to investigate these widespread allegations of human rights abuses concluded that the Syrian government was routinely executing members of the FSA, torturing its prisoners and even targeting children in an attempt to quell opposition protestors .
Notwithstanding the unequivocal evidence of human rights violations by Syrian government and the numerous calls for humanitarian intervention—by the French government in particular and also, more recently, in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, by the USA, the UK and France —the UN Security Council repeatedly failed to authorise military intervention in this region.
The UN response to this conflict can be summarised as follows:
• On 22 August 2011, the UN Human Rights Council established the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to investigate all allegations of human rights abuses in Syria with a view to identifying the parties responsible, so that ultimately they could be held to account . The Commission reported widespread human rights violations including the use of ‘forced disappearance’ tactics and the targeting of hospitals and medical supplies by the government to prevent FA forces from receiving medical treatment .
• In 2012 the United Nations sent Kofi Annan as Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States to negotiate a peaceful settlement of this dispute between the rival factions . A six-point peace plan for Syria was developed although initial hopes that the Syrian government would comply with its ceasefire obligations under this plan were totally extinguished when the Syrian government resumed its campaign of violence against the FSA on 25 May 2012 . Kofi Annan himself issued a statement blaming Assad’s regime for the failure of the peace plan and urging the UN Security Council to threaten military intervention for non-compliance .
• On 14 April 2012, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2042, ‘requesting’ compliance by the Syrian government with the Envoy’s six-point plan and authorizing the deployment of 30 unarmed military observers to liaise with the parties and to report upon the implementation of this ceasefire .
• On 21 April 2012, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2042, establishing the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), a 90 day Mission comprising 300 unarmed military observers along with an ‘appropriate’ civilian component “…to monitor a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties and to monitor and support the full implementation of the Envoy’s six-point proposal. ”
• On 20 July 2012, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2059, extending the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) by 30 days .
• On 27th September 2013, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2118, in direct response to the use of chemical weapons on 21 August 2013 against Syrian civilians. This Resolution welcomed the Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons which was entered into between Russia and the USA on 14 September 2013 and the “decision of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of 27 September 2013 establishing special procedures for the expeditious destruction of the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons program… ” and authorised the deployment of an advance team of UN personnel to assist the OPWC in discharging its obligations under this mandate . Paragraph 21 of this Resolution affirmed that, “non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorised transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic… ” would result in the imposition of, “…measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. ” Such measures include non-military and ‘last resort’ military intervention .
• On 18 December 2013, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2131, renewing the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force for a period of six months, in response to the findings of the Secretary General that Syrian military forces were undertaking activities in the area of separation between Syria and Israel, established under the terms of their ceasefire agreement and UN Resolution 338 (1973) of 22 October 1973 .
Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations 1945 (as amended) describes the primary purpose of the United Nations in the following terms:
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.
Article 24 of the United Nations Charter assigns primary responsibility for the discharge of this function on the UN Security Council and reaffirms its duty to provide “prompt and effective action. ”
The paucity of measures adopted by the United Nations to curb the ensuing conflict in Syria calls into question whether or not it has discharged this function with respect to this particular ‘breach of the peace’. From the preceding summary of UN action it hardly seems tenable to argue that the Security Council offered “prompt and effective action” in Syria. It is the aim of this proposed research to critically evaluate whether or not this is indeed the case and, consequently, whether or not the indecision of the UN Security Council in relation to intervention in Syria reflects serious weaknesses in the structure of the United Nations.
The political significance of the issue with which this proposed research is concerned is self-explanatory. If the Syrian case study reveals that there is indeed a serious weakness in the institutional structure of United Nations, then the case for reform, to restore the perceived integrity of this international institution and the respect afforded to it by individual Nation States, becomes compelling. As the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict concluded, in its 1997 Report of the same name, anything which undermines the credibility of the United Nations potentially weakens its capacity for conflict prevention and management . The fact that Saudi Arabia recently refused to take a seat on the UN Security Council because it believed that the UN failed in its duties towards Syria , provides compelling support for the potential significance of research of the kind hereby proposed. The Saudi Arabian government has indicated that it will not consider revising its position until the United Nations has been structurally reformed .
Various reasons have been proffered to explain why the United Nations Security Council has, thus far, been unable to adopt a Resolution authorizing military or non-military intervention in Syria. Fouad Ajami, for example—referring specifically to the failure of the USA the UK and France to secure adoption of their proposal for economic sanctions against Syria within Resolution 2118 (2013)—argues that the ability of Russia and China, the other two permanent members of the Security Council , to veto interventionist proposals, totally undermines the function of the UN Security Council .
Another proponent of this thesis is Sonia Rothwell who concludes that, “On too many issues of global concern, the United Nations faces gridlock… ” and that, “The Security Council, embodying as it does the post-war oligopoly in its permanent membership, desperately needs reform to empower the wider world and to improve its effectiveness. ”
This sentiment was reflected in the recent recommendation of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to increase the membership of the UN Security Council, abolish the veto currently enjoyed by its permanent Members, and replace the current voting systems with a super-majority rule for the adoption of important decisions .
Price and Zacher argue that there has, for a long time, been support for extending the membership of the UN Security Council, to increase the democratic legitimacy of this institution and to take advantage of a wider pool of permanent resources . However, they argue, there has not been sufficient concern with this problem to sustain a consensus on the expansion of this institution. If this view is accurate, then it follows that research of the kind proposed may provide additional grounds for concern which may facilitate such a consensus.
Price and Zacher are correct in asserting that there is wide support for reform to the UN Security Council. Wouters and Ruys explain that the UN Security Council has, historically, been heavily criticised for lacking transparency and representativeness and that improvements which have been made to the transparency of this institution have only served to expose the true extent of the lack of representativeness of the UN Security Council . In particular, they cite the existence of the veto vote mechanism, enjoyed by the Permanent Members of the Security Council, as the primary source of this deficiency. This voting mechanism, they argue, is fundamentally unjust, a relic of the aftermath of the Cold War, and is primarily responsible for the UN’s perceived failures in Rwanda and Darfur .
Respondents argue that the UN Security Council was never designed to be fully democratic and that the veto vote was established specifically for the purpose of ensuring that action was only taken when all of the world’s super-powers were in agreement that intervention was necessary . David Malone argues that it is doubtful that the democratic argument for reform has a firm basis in the United Nations Charter; however, he acknowledges the widespread criticism of the veto power on other bases, including the fact that it violates the international legal principle of sovereign equality among states .
The majority of the arguments both for and against reform to the UN Security council are not new; they have been raised almost continually since 1945 and the end of World War II. For this reason, analysis of these arguments provides very little in the way of fresh insight into this debate. However, there are a few exceptions to this, including the original and unique thesis of Sabine Hassler, who argues convincingly that reform to the UN Security Council will not improve the representativeness of this institution . The proposed research critically evaluates this thesis through reference to the Syrian case study.
4. Aims and objectives of the proposed research
The primary research questions of the proposed research are as follows:
(i) What structural reforms, if any, are required in order to make the United Nations Security Council ‘fit for purpose’?
(ii) To what extent does the indecision of the UN Security Council in relation to intervention in Syria reflect serious weaknesses in the structure of international law?
The subsidiary research questions of the proposed research are as follows:
(i) What proposals for intervention in Syria were proposed to the UN Security Council in the period March 2011 to January 2014?
(ii) Why were these proposals not adopted?
(iii) Were the objections of the desisting Member States substantively well-reasoned?
(iv) Is there a compelling case for reform to the structure and decision-making mechanisms of the United Nations Security Council?
(v) How could the the decision-making mechanisms of the UN Security Council be reformed to improve the effectiveness of this institution in discharging its functions?
(vi) What are the potential disadvantages of each reform proposal identified?
(vii) What are the barriers to reform?
(viii) How might these barriers be overcome?
5. Research methodology
The nature of the first research question, supra, necessitates the use of a case study research methodology; after all, the case for or against reform will be derived predominantly from an analysis of the perceived failures of the UN Security Council in providing prompt and effective action in Syria.
Notwithstanding the prevalence of support for this reformist agenda, it is important to remember that the current voting system of the United Nations Security Council has developed over almost seven decades. One must therefore exercise real caution when deriving an argument for reform solely upon the basis of one particular case study. Nevertheless, the fact that Saudi Arabia has refused a non-permanent appointment solely on the basis of this case study illustrates how significant the impact of even one perceived failure can be.
In providing a response to the second research question of the proposed research, a literature view methodology will be employed. Broad source selection criteria will be utilised, to include academic journals and textbooks, newspaper articles, government and NGO position papers, online databases and official UN publications (including UN Resolutions).
There is no alternative methodology better able to identify the various arguments which have been proffered for and against reform to the structure and decision-making mechanisms of the UN Security Council. Where appropriate, comparisons will be made with the structure and voting mechanisms of the WTO and the European Union, although the academic value of such comparisons is inevitably tempered by the unique and idiosyncratic nature of the functions of the UN Security Council.
6. Annotated bibliography
Stuart Casey-Maslen, The War Report: 2012 (Oxford University Press, 2013)
This book provides a useful and recent, if somewhat cursory, summary of the ensuing civil war in Syria . The focus of this case study is the human rights violations which have been suffered by dissident rebels at the hands of Assad’s regime. This source will prove useful in constructing an historical timeline for this conflict, which will be provided in the introductory chapter of the proposed research.
Fred Lawson, Global Security Watch—Syria (ABC-CLIO, 2013).
The historical account of the ensuing civil war in Syria provided by this book is perhaps the most detailed and neutrally-oriented account that is available . This source will prove useful in constructing an historical timeline for the Syrian conflict, which will be provided in the introductory chapter of the proposed research.
Felice D. Gaer and Christen L. Broecker, The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Conscience for the World (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2013).
This work provides a compelling account of the various human rights abuses which have thus far characterised the Syrian civil war conflict. The proposed research relies upon the existence of reliable evidence of the widespread occurrence of human rights violations by and against Assad’s regime to justify its central claim that the UN Security Council failed to provide ‘prompt and effective action’ towards the resolution of this conflict. This book presents arguments and makes references to secondary sources which will prove invaluable in mounting a case in support of this claim.
Amos Guiora, Modern Geopolitics and Security: Strategies for Unwinnable Conflicts (CRC Press, 2013).
This book provides a useful analysis of the reasons why the international community, represented by the UN Security Council, ultimately decided not to intervene in Syria. Because the proposed research is predicated upon an assumption that the UN was wrong to be so indecisive with respect to this conflict, this work provides a compelling basis through which this presumption can be evaluated, critically.
Sabine Hassler, Reforming the UN Security Council Membership: The Illusion of Representativeness (Routledge, 2012).
This book examines the various proposals which have been proffered by academics and nation States for reform to the UN Security Council. This book is of use to the proposed research because it documents comprehensively the main arguments put forward in support of reform to the UN Security Council. However, it is also useful because it provides a compelling and unique thesis demonstrating that reform, by itself, is unlikely to improve the ‘representativeness’ of the UN Security Council.
The proposed research will provide an in-depth critique of the way that the UN Security Council discharged its functions with respect to the ensuing conflict in Syria and a comprehensive synthesis of the international literature on the appropriateness of the current structure of the UN Security Council. Consequently, the proposed research will be of value not only to fellow academics, but also to governments—national and supranational—and NGOs who are deliberating their respective positions within this emerging and prominent debate.
Books, articles and reports:
Ajami, F., The Syrian Rebellion (Hoover Press, 2012) Ch.8.
Barnard, A., and Rick Gladstone, Syrian Leader Accused of Escalating Attacks (3 April 2012) New York Times <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/04/world/middleeast/syria-cease-fire.html> accessed 14 January 2014.
BBC, ‘Saudi Arabia turns down UN Security Council seat’ (18 October 2013) BBC <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east- accessed 24 January 2014.
Black, I., ‘Saudi Arabia snubs security council seat over ‘UN failures’’ (18 October 2013) The Guardian < http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/18/saudi-arabia-security-council-un> accessed 24 January 2014.
Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, ‘Preventing Deadly Conflict: Final Report’ (Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1197) < http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a372860.pdf> accessed 24 January 2014.
Casey-Maslen, S., The War Report: 2012 (Oxford University Press, 2013).
Fassbender, B., UN Security Council Reform and the Right of Veto: A Constitutional Perspective (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1998).
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2012 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report (HMSO, 2013) 233-8.
Gaer, F., and Christen L. Broecker, The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Conscience for the World (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2013).
Guiora, A., Modern Geopolitics and Security: Strategies for Unwinnable Conflicts (CRC Press, 2013) 58.
Hassler, S., Reforming the UN Security Council Membership: The Illusion of Representativeness (Routledge, 2012).
Human Rights Council, ‘Assault on medical care in Syria’ (13 September 2011) A/HRC/24/CRP.2/Agenda Item 4 <http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session24/Documents/A-HRC-24-CRP-2.doc> accessed 24 January 2014.
Human Rights Council, ‘Without a trace: enforced disappearances in Syria’ (19 December 2013) United Nations <http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/ThematicPaperEDInSyria.pdf> accessed 24 January 2014.
Lawson, F., Global Security Watch—Syria (ABC-CLIO, 2013).
Lederer, E., ‘Kofi Annan Blames Peace Plan Failure On Syria’ (6 July 2012) The World Post <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/07/kofi-annan-blames-peace-plan-failure-syria_n_1579603.html> accessed 24 January 2014.
Malone, D., The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004).
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic’ (2014) United Nations Human Rights < http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/IICISyria/Pages/IndependentInternationalCommission.aspx> accessed 24 January 2014.
Price, R., and Mark Zacher, The United Nations and Global Security (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
Reuters, ‘France calls for ‘secured’ humanitarian intervention in Syria’ (24 November 2011) Haaretz < http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/france-calls-for-secured-humanitarian-intervention-in-syria-1.397436> accessed 24 January 2014.
Rothwell, S., ‘Security Council reform: why it matters and why it’s not happening’ (7 November 2013) Open Democracy <http://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/sonia-rothwell/security-council-reform-why-it-matters-and-why-its-not-happening> accessed 24 January 2014.
Security Council, Resolution 2131 (18 December 2013) Adopted by the Security Council at its 7089th meeting on 18 December 2013 United Nations <http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2131%282013%29> accessed 24 January 2014.
UN, ‘Chilean President tells permanent Security Council members to abandon veto’ (24 September 2013) UN News Centre <http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45964&Cr=general+debate&Cr1=#.UuJzv7SnyUk> accessed 24 January 2014.
UN, ‘Syria: UN and Arab League appoint joint envoy to deal with crisis’ (23 February 2012) UN News Centre <http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/html/www.iaea.org/story.asp?NewsID=41346&Cr=syria&Cr1=#.UuJX77SnyUk> accessed 24 January 2014.
United Nations, ‘Independent UN panel urges action amid ongoing human rights abuses in Syria conflict’ (February 2013) UN News Centre <http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44163&Cr=syria&Cr1=human%20rights#.UuJSrrSnyUk> accessed 24 January 2014.
Wouters, J., and Tom Ruys, Security council reform: a new veto for a new century? (Academia Press, 2005).
International treaties and legal instruments:
Charter of the United Nations 1945 (as amended).
UN Resolution 2042 (2012) Adopted by the Security Council at its 6751st meeting, on 14 April 2012 < http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/295/28/PDF/N1229528.pdf?OpenElement> accessed 24 January 2014.
UN Resolution 2043 (2012) Adopted by the Security Council at its 6756th meeting, on 21 April 2012 <http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/305/91/PDF/N1230591.pdf?OpenElement> accessed 29 January 2014.
UN Resolution 2059 (2012) Adopted by the Security Council at its 6812th meeting, on 20 July 2012 <http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/432/02/PDF/N1243202.pdf?OpenElement> accessed 24 January 2014.
UN Resolution 2118 (2013) Adopted by the Security Council at its 7038th meeting on 27 September 2013 <http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2118%282013%29> accessed 24 January 2014.
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