UN Monitoring Mission in Syria Ends Without Ever Having the Tools to Succeed

The Security Council today failed to extend the mandate of the United Nations observer mission in Syria, known as UNSMIS, meaning it will formally cease operations by August 19.

This was no surprise.

Last month, the Security Council’s last chance effort to pressure Bashar al Assad into accepting the Kofi Annan peace plan failed when it faced a Russian and Chinese double veto. The next day, the Security Council voted to extend the monitoring mission only for enough time to let the remaning few hundred monitors and staff leave Syria in an orderly fashion. The Security Council action today marks the formal end of the six month mission.

The mission ends in failure for two reasons. The first, most basic reason is that the monitors were never granted the freedom of movement to do their job. These were not peacekeepers, they were unarmed military observers. They would always have to rely on the Syrian government for protection. When the Syrian government committed massacres, they simply prevented the monitors from accessing the sites.

The second reason for failure is that when the Syrian government ceased cooperation with the mission, the Security Council was never able to coerce or convince the Syrian government to reverse course.  The Council could never even countenance the threat of sanctions because of Russia’s steadfast opposition. Thus, Syria really had nothing to lose in obstructing the mission.

Now, without ever being given the tools to succeed the mission ends in a whimper.  In its place will be a small civilian presence that will remain in Syria to facilitate political dialogue if and when the parties are ready to enter negotiations. This is probably the best the United Nations can do for now.

Until the international community is unified, there is little chance that UN efforts can reduce the scale and scope of violence in Syria.