Saturday, September 28, 2013

UNSC Resolution 2118 - a half-full glass?

I have carefully parsed UNSC Res 2118 and while I did not find any great surprises in its contents, I would qualify it as a half-full glass, meaning that while this resolution does not fix any of the issues which I had identified in the Kerry-Lavrov agreements (see here, here, here and here), it at least does not exacerbate them either and that, in itself, is definitely a plus.  


Because my main concern was the the US would "creatively reinterpret" (i.e. grossly distort) the meaning of the Kerry-Lavrov Agreement.  Since this has not happened in this Resolution, this now makes is harder or even less likely that the US could do so.  And if it did, it would do so at a higher political costs, with its hypocrisy even more obvious to all.

One big risk of the Kerry Lavrov Agreement remains.

Here is what Kerry said in his explanation of vote:
The Council had endorsed the Geneva Communiqué, and it had adopted a legally binding resolution that spelled out in detail what Syria must do to comply with it. It could not accept or reject the inspectors, but must give unfettered access at all sites. “We are here because actions have consequences,” he said.
Russia's position was expressed by Lavrov:
Noting that Damascus had shown its readiness for cooperation by joining the Chemical Weapons Convention, he said that was a precondition for success. It also had provided a list of its chemical weapons arsenal. Damascus would continue to cooperate with international inspectors. The responsibility for implementing the resolution did not lay only with Syria. 
Interestingly, the semi-official official preamble of the UN Department of Public Information wrote this:
Syria should comply with all aspects of the OPCW decision, notably by accepting personnel designated by OPCW or the United Nations and providing them with immediate and unfettered access to — and the right to inspect — any and all chemical weapons sites.
Now what did the Resolution 2118 itself actually say?

Alas, it said this:

Decides that the Syrian Arab Republic shall cooperate fully with the OPCW and the United Nations, including by complying with their relevant recommendations, by accepting personnel designated by the OPCW or the United Nations, by providing for and ensuring the security of activities undertaken by these personnel, by providing these personnel with immediate and unfettered access to and the right to inspect, in discharging their functions, any and all sites, and by allowing immediate and unfettered access to individuals that the OPCW has grounds to believe to be of importance for the purpose of its mandate, and decides that all parties in Syria shall cooperate fully in this regard;
I hate to be the one making it rain on your parade, but this is not good at all.  The Americans got it right: this Resolution does not, repeat not, limit access to only chemical sites.  Not only does it require immediate access to any and all sites, it also demands immediate and unfettered access to individuals (and we know how the UN special tribunal investigating the Hariri murder in Lebanon abused that right, especially towards Syrian nationals).

So we should not kid ourselves, all the US needs to do is find the Syria in material breach of Resolution 2118 and, voila, we will almost be back to square one.  I say 'almost', because the trap set by the Russians for the USA has also worked: by voting 'yes' on UNSC Res 2118 the USA has thereby also committed itself to go back to the UNSC should it find Syria in non-compliance with UNSC Res 2118.  What the US cannot do is simply decide to attack.  The political price for that have now skyrocketed with the US signing on to this Resolution, and that is, of course, very good news - kudos to the Russian diplomats here.

Clearly, as long as Putin is alive and in the Kremlin, the US will not get a UNSC Resolution to attack Syria.  I think that nobody, short of pathological Russia-haters, will deny that.  The Americans understand that too.  So they also understand that if they find Syria in material breach of UNSC Res 2118 they will have to go to the UNSC where the best they can hope for is a Russian and Chinese agreement to Chapter VII measures which fall short of the use of military force, and even that is most unlikely as Lavrov has clearly said that any accusation would have to be proven 100% (a level of proof which is practically impossible to meet anyway).  So short of Assad throwing a chemical hand grenade from his balcony on CNN live - the UNSC will not endorse an attack on Syria.

Still, the Americans are so used to threaten and bully that it has really become a second nature to them.  And the dumber and more ignorant a US politician is, the more bullying and threatening he usually does precisely to conceal is boneheaded ignorance and cluelessness.  They all seem to be totally unaware of the fact that under international law the threat of attack is already considered as an aggressive and illegal action.

The other headache for the US will be that it has now committed to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table, something which the insurgents have so far categorically rejected.  Even better, did you notice that the American insistence that Assad first leave even before negotiations begin have now vanished from both the Kerry-Lavrov Agreement and UNSC Res 2118?  Another small, but very substantial victory for the Kremlin.

The best thing which the Kerry-Lavrov Agreement and UNSC Res 2118 provide is, of course, a quasi-total elimination for any momentum for a US attack on Syria, and that is truly a fantastic success for Lavrov and his diplomats.  Even a "material breach" argument will not be "sexy" enough for Obama to justify a US attack on Syria.  The only way to achieve that is, what else, yet another false flag attack, either on Israel or even on the USA.  So that will be the main danger from now on: a US/Israeli false flag attack with a lot of innocent civilians killed, enough to outrage the US public opinion into yet another murderous frenzy.  Short of that, it appears that the danger of a direct US military intervention in the short and mid term have receded, at least for the time being.

The glass is definitely half full.  Let's hope we can fill it further up now.

The Saker