(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration is characterizing as a diplomatic triumph the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons that is so watered down at Russia’s insistence it does not even blame the Assad regime for their use in a deadly attack last month.
The resolution adopted in New York on Friday night moreover contains no direct enforcement mechanism and no automatic penalties for non-compliance, making any further action in such a case dependent on a new resolution – which Russia will almost certainly veto.
Language in an earlier draft that called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria was also removed. The final text merely says that “those responsible for any use of chemical weapons must be held accountable,” again without naming the perpetrator or saying how this should happen.
Still, Secretary of State John Kerry portrayed the outcome of two weeks of negotiating as an unqualified success.
“Together, the world, with a single voice for the first time, is imposing binding obligations on the Assad regime requiring it to get rid of weapons that have been used to devastating effect as tools of terror,” he said in the council after the resolution was adopted.
“The Security Council has shown that when we put aside politics for the common good, we are still capable of doing big things.”
Resolution 2118 did achieve unanimous support – for the first time since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011 – and is the first ever to attempt to destroy a nation’s chemical weapons capability (others have focused on chemical weapons proliferation).
But it came at a cost that was nowhere more evident than in the differing emphases of Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, regarding the question of non-compliance.
“Should the regime fail to act [in meeting a timetable of inspections and eventual weapons destruction] there will be consequences,” said Kerry. “Progress will be reported back to the Security Council frequently, and in the event of noncompliance, the council will impose measures under chapter seven of the U.N. Charter.”
But simply because resolution 2118 contains a mention of chapter seven – the chapter used to authorize sanctions or military force – does not mean that it is a chapter seven resolution. Any action that may be contemplated under chapter seven in the future will require another resolution.
Lavrov stressed that the text had not been passed under chapter seven and did not allow coercive measures.
According to the U.N. record of the meeting, the Russian foreign minister went on to say that any violation – by any party in Syria – would have to be carefully investigated, and that “violations must be 100 percent proven.”
The significance of that statement is clear: That President Bashar Assad’s regime carried out the Aug. 21 attack near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people has been widely accepted by Western governments, intelligence services and human rights investigators, yet Russia continues to assert that the opposition, not the regime, was responsible.
Before Russia supports any new resolution, Lavrov is therefore signaling – underlining a position he laid out earlier – it will first have to agree that a violation has been “100 percent proven.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at Friday’s meeting said it was obvious the regime was responsible for the Aug. 21 attack and that “no-one in good faith can contest that fact” – yet that is precisely what Russia continues to do.
Heritage Foundation scholars Brett Schaefer and Baker Spring said the lack of an enforcement mechanism “renders the resolution toothless.”
Noting that response to any violation would require the adoption of an additional Security Council resolution, they wrote on National Review Online that “[u]nder this circumstance, Russia will be free to use or threaten to use its veto to block imposition of effective measures, as it has done repeatedly over the past two years.”
“Russia has made it clear from the outset of the diplomatic process that produced this draft resolution that it is strongly opposed to applying strong sanctions, much less using military force in Syria.”
Schaefer and Spring also scored the resolution poorly for its failure to blame the regime for the Aug. 21 attack.
“This unwillingness to identify the culprit necessarily puts the Security Council in a position of weakness vis-à-vis the Assad regime and conveys the message that victims of the chemical attacks are of equivalent standing to the perpetrators.”
The described the resolution as “a charade designed to give the Obama administration political cover for its bungling on Syria.”
The text originally drafted by France earlier this month called for the perpetrators of the Aug. 21 chemical attack to face trial in the ICC.
That was a non-starter for Moscow, however, and the language was removed. At Friday’s evening, the only mentions of the ICC came from two non-permanent council members, Australia and Luxembourg, according to the U.N. record.
Earlier, Human Rights Watch and others had called for the Security Council to refer the Syria situation to the ICC, which could investigate atrocities and war crimes committed by the regime and rebels alike.
Responding to the resolution adopted, the organization expressed disappointment at the absence of ICC referral.
“Any progress to remove Syria’s chemical weapons is an important step, but this resolution fails to ensure justice for the gassing of hundreds of children and many other grave crimes,” said its U.N. advocacy director, Philippe Bolopion.
“The U.S. in particular should join the dozens of countries that publicly support an ICC referral, the clearest way to justice for countless victims.”
Asked about the missing ICC language, Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power told reporters, “you know as well as we do the resistance that we and others have faced in pushing forward criminal accountability.”
“We supported the [U.N.] commission of inquiry, we’ve supported the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center, the evidence is being gathered,” she said. “The day will come. This is a resolution narrowly focused on taking Syria’s chemical weapons program away, eliminating it so that it can do no further damage of the kind it did so recently.”
A resolution introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this month by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) called not for ICC referral but for the establishment of an ad-hoc Syria war crimes tribunal that would cover actions committed by both sides in the civil war, including the use of chemical weapons.