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Haid Haid

A gleaming UN resolution with no teeth

The US and Russia have to start addressing Assad’s fate

Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands at a news conference after a UN Security Council meeting on Syria in New York on 18 December 2015. The UNSC unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing a peace process to end the nearly five-year war in Syria. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted on 18 December, is considered by various international actors to constitute rare progress in the ongoing conflict in Syria. The resolution shows the support of UN government members for the negotiation plan agreed upon previously in Vienna in November among all regional and international countries involved in the Syrian conflict. The endorsed road map starts with a call for a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and opposition groups, and ends in 18 months with the formation of a unity government and elections being held.

 

This unanimous and ambitious resolution, which gives the impression that the gap between the positions of Russia and the US is closing, doesn’t indicate any practical implementation on the ground, especially that it comes without any enforcement measures under Chapter VII, which gives the Security Council the right to use force.  

 

Moreover, the major differences between regional and international actors remain unsolved, especially on issues related to Assad’s fate in Syria’s future as well as agreeing on who should represent the Syrian opposition and who should be designated as terrorists.

 

 

Positive progress

 

The resolution achieved significant diplomatic progress on many levels, which could have a positive impact on stopping the Syrian conflict if it gets implemented. It is the first time that there has been a Security Council resolution on political transition in Syria since the beginning of the conflict. This is due to the clear division between Security Council members, since Russia and China started vetoing all resolutions to stop the atrocities committed by the Assad regime and/or reach a political solution to end the conflict there.

 

It also sets out a specific milestone with a clear timeframe based on the Geneva Communiqué and the Vienna Statement, which makes it easier to assess progress made and allows UN support to overcome obstacles in implementation. The resolution aims to “support a Syrian-led political process that is facilitated by the United Nations and, within a target of six months, establishes credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance and sets a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution, and further expresses its support for free and fair elections, pursuant to the new constitution, to be held within 18 months.”

 

Additionally, it highlights that the ceasefire should be nationwide, linked to a clear parallel political process to end the conflict, and starts as soon as the initial steps towards a political transition between the regime and the opposition begin under UN support. These important aspects were missing in previous attempts to reach a ceasefire and contributed to their failure.

 

Moreover, it emphasizes the need to take confidence-building measures to support the political process, as well as the immediate implementation of previous UN resolutions which demand immediate access of humanitarian assistance to all people in need — particular in besieged areas — the release of any arbitrarily detained individuals, and the immediate cessation of any attacks against civilians and civilian targets, including any indiscriminate use of weapons.

 

 

The elephant in the room

 

Despite the significant diplomatic progress of the resolution, it may still face a fate similar to previous UN resolutions on Syria such as 2139, 2165, 2191, etc. The lack of enforcement measures under Chapter VII makes the possibility of implementation slim, especially that Russia will most likely use its veto against any attempt to do otherwise. Therefore, as long as the major differences between Russia and the US remain unsolved, the resolution will continue to be an ambitious plan with no muscle to implement it.

 

The resolution does not mention whether Assad will be ousted before or after the transitional period or whether he will be able to run for office in the new elections. It’s clear so far — publically, at least — that Russia and Iran are not willing to give up on Assad, a position strongly opposed by certain regional and international actors. However, it seems that the US has adopted a more flexible position towards forcing Assad to step down, with the White House hesitating to support a military intervention against Assad, given Russia’s strong support for Assad, and finally the rise of ISIS. Therefore, it seems that the discussion right now is focused on Assad’s authority in the event that he plays a transitional role, or whether he will be stripped of all his authority or only part of it.

 

Although it is sometimes useful to start negotiations with a less confrontational issue, continuing to avoid the elephant in the room may prove their undoing. The US and Russia have to start addressing Assad’s fate, bearing in mind that he has lost his legitimacy and ability to rule the country and that it is impossible for him to bring peace and unity to Syria.

 

The other obstacle here is agreeing on who should represent the Syrian opposition and who should be designated as terrorists, especially as Russia has been attacking non-ISIS groups using the regime’s definition of terrorism, which includes everyone opposing it, including civilians. The resolution has referred this issue to the list that Jordan is preparing on terrorist groups in Syria. The challenge is to get Russia to agree on the list and stop it from attacking the non-ISIS groups fighting Assad that are currently its main targets.   

 

Implementing this resolution to reach a sustainable political settlement in Syria depends, for the most part, on how these actors can overcome their differences in ways that still respect justice and accountability.

 

Haid Haid is a program manager at the Heinrich Böll Stiftung office in Beirut. He tweets @HaidHaid22

Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands at a news conference after a UN Security Council meeting on Syria in New York on 18 December 2015. The UNSC unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing a peace process to end the nearly five-year war in Syria. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

It’s clear so far — publically, at least — that Russia and Iran are not willing to give up on Assad, a position strongly opposed by certain regional and international actors. However, it seems that the US has adopted a more flexible position towards forcing Assad to step down."

  • Cripes

    Assad and his cronies should have been behind bars at the Hague years ago for the killing of large numbers of opponents and civilians. The West has been too irresolute to stand up to Assad's protector, Russia, so he clings on to power for now. However, t does not matter if he stands for re-election, his chances of winning in a free and fair, UN-supervised poll, are about zero. For that reason, one can confidently expect Putin, Assad and Iran to put every obstacle in the way of a political settlement and democratic outcome.

    December 22, 2015