Are We Inching Closer Toward Security Council Sanctions on Syria?

It would seem that leaders in the region are upping the pressure in Bashar al Assad. From Blake Hounshell:

With the extraordinary midnight statement Sunday by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, demanding the “stoppage of the killing machine and bloodshed” in Syria and withdrawing the Saudi ambassador from Damascus for “consultations,” the Syrian president’s isolation is nearly complete. The remarks came after a milder Gulf Cooperation Council statement last week that, in hindsight, ought to have been seen as a warning.

Kuwait also withdrew its ambassador Monday, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was on his way to Damascus to deliver “a very sharp message” to Assad, in the words of an anonymous senior Turkish diplomat quoted by Hürriyet Daily News.

“[Turkey and Syria] will sit down and talk for one last time … even though one should not exclude dialogue, even in wartime,” another Foreign Ministry official told the paper. “The talks will show whether the ties will be cut loose or not … If a new [Turkish] policy is to be outlined on Syria – that’s the last meeting.”

Blake’s item is significant for us UN watchers. Regional dynamics tend to inform how the Security Council acts in situations that otherwise might be considered internal to the affairs of a sovereign UN member state.

Russia and China–the two countries that are least likely to adopt an expansive view of the Security Council’s mandate when it comes to civil strife — are most willing to take that leap when regional actors do so first.  For example, China was only willing to go along with a peacekeeping mission for Darfur once the African Union was on board. Likewise, on Libya, Russia and China only approved of Security Council action after the Arab League issued statements calling for international intervention.  Without the approval of regional or sub-regional bodies, like  ASEAN, the African Union, Arab League or Gulf Cooperation Council, Russia and China are unlikely to approve action at the Security Council.

If what Blake is saying pans out– that regional bodies like the Arab League or Gulf Cooperation Council issue increasingly condemnatory statements — the Security Council may take the cue.

Last week, the Security Council approved a statement condemning the violence in Syria.  That opened the door to future Security Council action. The next step could be a Security Council resolution that imposes targeted sanctions on the Syrian regime (including an asset freeze and travel ban) and possibly the referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

The likelihood of the Security Council taking this next step is a function of the extent to which regional organizations are willing to abandon the Assad regime. This is definitely something to watch.