US-Russia deal on Syria sets up coming battle within UN

Ensuring resolution includes punitive measures if Assad fails to comply with agreement was a US victory, but Russia will resist military action

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 September, 2013, 4:08am

Making Russia agree to take UN-backed action against Syria if President Bashar al-Assad breaches a chemical weapons deal announced yesterday is a victory for the United States, diplomats said.

"Russia has been so hostile to UN action on the Syria war that this is a breakthrough by itself," said one UN diplomat.

However, while Chapter 7 of the UN Charter was cited in the US-Russia deal announced in Geneva, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quick to stress "there is no talk of using force".

Chapter 7 can also impose mandatory economic sanctions against a target government.

US Secretary of State John Kerry did not immediately say whether he believes force could be used.

But the Pentagon said US military forces were still positioned for possible military strikes on Syria, at least for now.

"We haven't made any changes to our force posture to this point," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

"The credible threat of military force has been key to driving diplomatic progress, and it's important that the Assad regime lives up to its obligations under the framework agreement."

A US threat of a military strike against Syria over its suspected use of chemical weapons on August 21 sparked the current crisis.

"Lavrov knows he needed US support for this accord and there was a price," added a second UN diplomat. "But the Russians will fight tooth and nail to make sure that the phrase 'all necessary measures' does not appear in any Security Council resolution against President Assad."

Russia and China have vetoed three previous western-drafted Security Council resolutions on Syria since the uprising against Assad started in March 2011.

Article 42 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter has been a worry for dictators and totalitarian regimes since it was agreed in 1945.

Chapter 7 was a key part of the script when the US led a UN force in the 1950-53 Korean War and to build a coalition against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

"All necessary measures" under Chapter 7 were also allowed to justify the Nato no-fly zone over Libya in 2011 and in conflicts such as in the Ivory Coast the same year when Laurent Gbagbo refused to hand over the presidency after losing an election.

Article 41 of Chapter 7 allows for sanctions, including economic and transport measures or the severing of diplomatic relations.

If the Security Council decides those measures are not strong enough then Article 42 states "it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.

"Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea or land forces of members of the United Nations."

Among the five permanent Security Council members, Britain, France and the US have backed tougher UN action under the "responsibility to protect" civilians doctrine agreed by world leaders after the 1994 Rwanda genocide and 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

Russia and China are worried about what they consider growing "unjustified interference". In the Syria case, Russia is Assad's last major defender on the international stage.

Russia has led complaints that western nations bamboozled others over Libya. Russia takes every opportunity to complain that Nato used a no-fly zone to protect civilians to launch strikes that brought down Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

The US, Britain and France insist their action was legal and that the Security Council was fully warned of the strong-arm measures that would be taken.

Additional reporting by Reuters