The Key, Central, Most Important Question at the Security Council

All action on the Syrian “deal” is now firmly at the Security Council, and the diplomatic gamesmanship has begun.

France was first out the gate with a resolution that would invoke “Chapter VII” of the UN Charter, meaning that the resolution would have the force of law.  In a formal, legal sense Syria would not have any choice of whether or not to comply, and could face consequences for non-compliance.

Just a few hours after the French foreign minister floated his plan, the Russian foreign minister let it be known that Russia would not support a Chapter VII resolution.  An emergency Security Council meeting that was originally scheduled for 4PM was delayed, apparently so Russia can craft their own counter-proposal.

Assuming Russia will not accept a Chapter VII resolution, President Obama will have a very tough decision to make. Would he be willing to live with a resolution that lacks any sort of enforcement mechanism and makes compliance essentially voluntary? On the one hand, the resolution would be really, really weak and depend almost entirely on the extent to which Russia independently pressures Assad to comply. On the other hand, it could give Obama a graceful way to call off the bombers. It would also be the first big diplomatic agreement on Syria in nearly two years, which could provide momentum for an internationally-backed peace process, which is currently totally stalled.

It’s a hard call. If Obama agrees to a non-binding Security Council resolution he would be basically relying on the Russians to make this plan happen.

Bottom line: The success or failure of this deal could hinge on whether President Obama is willing to accept a weak resolution that does not fall under Chapter VII of the UN charter.