Next Steps on Syria

What’s most striking about the mass expulsion of Syrian diplomats from western capitals today is that it is happening at all.  If we are to draw a comparison to Libya: No Libyan diplomats were expelled during the height of Muammar Gaddafi’s crackdown against rebels and peaceful protesters. Rather, they defected. En masse.

That there have been no similar defections among the Syrian diplomatic core shows just how much more diplomatically difficult it is to find consensus on Syria at the Security Council. The personal appeals for intervention by former members of the Libyan diplomatic core were a key factor in non-western countries’ decision to abstain from Security Council resolutions authorizing sanctions and intervention in Libya. In particular, the heart-wrenching plea of Libya’s deputy UN ambassador to foreign powers, begging for intervention in Libya had a profound effect on normally staid diplomats at the UN.

But as today’s actions show, these defections are not taking place. That ship has sailed. So what is next?

There will likely be a renewed push at the Security Council for imposing sanctions on Syrian officials believed to be responsible for this massacre. There will also likely be a push to have the ICC investigate crimes in Syria. For either measures to pass require that Russia either support or abstain from the resolution. The big question is whether or not the Houla massacre has changed Moscow’s calculations over weather or not to stand by its man in Damascus.

The moment that Russia backs sanctions or an ICC referral is the moment that Assad loses his most powerful foreign ally.  We will know fairly soon