Debate Over Syrian Mortar Attack in Turkey Exposes Security Council Divide, Once Again

At Turkey’s request, the Security Council is attempting to issue a statement condemning the Syrian cross-border mortar attack that killed 5 Turkish civilians yesterday.  It would appear, however, that even this cross border violence has not done much to dislodge certain Security Council members from their previously held positions.

Russia is seeking to dilute a draft Security Council statement, written by Azerbaijan, in two important ways. First, according to this excellent report from Reuters, Russia wanted to insert a provision to call on Turkey and Syria “to exercise restraint and avoid military clashes which could lead to a further escalation of the situation in the border.” This, of course, could be interpreted in Turkey (and by Turkey’s NATO allies) as the Security Council undermining Ankara’s ability to protect its own borders. This is clearly a non-starter because Turkey has every right to prevent artillery fire from killing its citizens. And over the past 24 hours, Turkey has launched its own strikes inside Syria.

Second, Russia wanted to delete a reference to Syria’s mortar attack which said “such violations of international law constitute a serious threat to international peace and security.”  The phrase ‘threat to international peace and security’ is a loaded term. Chapter VII of the UN charter gives the Security Council the authority to intervene in conflicts to “maintain or restore international peace and security.”  If Russia agrees to this provision, it would mean they endorse the idea that this is a conflict that rightfully falls under the remit of the Security Council; Russia would be endorsing the idea that Syria is an international issue (as opposed to domestic civil conflict).

This audacious cross border attack and heightening tensions between Turkey and Syria does not seem to have moved the diplomatic needle at all at the Security Council. Rather, positions seem to becoming more entrenched.