The Alliance Program in cooperation with SIPA and the Middle East Institute hosted the French Ambassador to the U.N., Gérard Araud, who discussed the crisis in Syria along with Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies History & MESAAS. As a member of the Security Council, Araud provided a technical lens on the current impasse. Considering the conflicting state interests of the P5, the U.N. will have to wait for the appropriate time – when both the Syrian government and the opposition come to a cease fire – before implementing a new plan.
Why Libya, and not Syria?
Much criticism surrounds the U.N.’s lack of intervention in Syria. While some pro-interventionists liken the Libyan crisis to the current Syrian crisis, Araud clarified that U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 allowed for a very “unique” case where intervention in Libya broke the U.N.’s “dogma” of non-interference in internal affairs.
Araud attributed the impasse at the Security Council to China and Russia’s opposition to a resolution that would remove Assad from power and install a transitional government. Russia fears the loss of its strategic interests with the Assad regime and a potential rise of an Islamic government in its stead.
The Syrian situation is undoubtedly polarizing — “I swear we have never had three vetoes in a row since the Cold War,” Araud attested. But this is no coincidence — Khalidi characterized the Syrian crisis as a “mini Cold War” between the U.S. and its allies on one hand, and Iran and its allies on the other.
Araud noted not only an international, but also a regional impasse regarding Syria. For six months, he stated, the Arab League was silent regarding the situation in Syria. In an endless debate, some claim that “the more we wait, the more that Assad is weakened” — but Araud raised the issue that this prolonged period also radicalizes the opposition.
Disunited Syria, (Dis)United Nations
Reflecting on the current situation at the Security Council, Araud characterized the U.N. as the “disunited nations”.
“It’s an association of nations that decide that on some issues they will accept to work together. On Syria, we do not accept to work together. And thanks to Russia and China’s veto power, we have blocked the resolution”.
While noting his nation’s opposition to the Russian stance, Araud also made sure to assert, “Diplomacy is never the good against evil. It’s two national interests on the stage, so we are to understand the national interests of the other side”.
What to do without a U.N. Security Council Resolution?
As violence escalates in Syria, the regime and the opposition have each taken to arms as the sole means of “winning”. The newly appointed U.N. envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is waiting for the moment when both sides in Syria will realize that weapons are not the way to solve problems. “If this moment comes, we have to be ready,” Araud stated.
Thus far, U.N. efforts have engaged both the regime and the opposition, and mapped the resistance movement. A platform considering the welfare of the Assad-supporting minorities in Syria is also a necessary component of the proposed plan.
The U.N. Security Council, unlike the General Assembly, holds a decisive power that can mobilize states. For now, however, its ongoing indecision due to the P5’s deep divisions has pushed it into a passive role that leaves us questioning the relevance of the U.N. to international crises.
Rather than remain bitter about the lack of intervention in Syria, Khalidi left us with broader-scale questions to analyze possible consequences of intervention. A real plan for Syria is to consider the following: What is the cost of the fall of regime? Who would be left in power? Will there be a Syrian state?