Syria: Now Comes the Tough Security Council Diplomacy

The UN inspection team’s report on chemical weapons is in. And, as everyone already knew, chemical weapons were used in Syria.

From a diplomatic standpoint, today’s release adds a degree of urgency to negotiations soon-to-be-underway to back up the Russia-US agreement with a Security Council resolution. Those negotiations could be rather intense because like any good diplomatic agreement, there is a degree of ambiguity in the text of the “Framework for the Elimination of Chemical Weapons.”

Consider these two operative  paragraphs

The United States and the Russian Federation commit to work together towards prompt adoption of a UN Security Council resolution that reinforces the decision of the OPCW Executive Council.  This resolution will also contain steps to ensure its verification and effective implementation and will request that the UN Secretary-General, in consultation with the OPCW, submit recommendations to the UN Security Council on an expedited basis regarding the UN’s role in eliminating the Syrian chemical weapons program.

The United States and the Russian Federation concur that this UN Security Council resolution should provide for review on a regular basis the implementation in Syria of the decision of the Executive Council of the OPCW, and in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

That last part is going to be tricky. Russia has been adamant that the threat of military strikes be off the table. But implicit in invoking Chapter VII is the use of force. (This is the part of the UN charter that authorizes the use of force). A resolution that directly threatens the use of force for non-compliance would probably be a non starter for Moscow. One possible way around this? A resolution that threatens to that a future resolution would invoke Chapter VII in the event of future compliance. This kicks the can down the road a bit while also preserving the “threat.”