An ambiguous UN resolution and a downed warplane
THE situation surrounding the Syrian civil war is getting worse by the day. The war on terrorism is getting more complicated. Two developments deserve close analysis: the open-ended, ambiguous UN Security Council Resolution 2249 (2015) adopted on November 20, and the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish air force near the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24.
The audacious attack, amid monumental intelligence failure in Paris, by ISIL on November 13 was a direct challenge to France. France is a Nato power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In a way it was a challenge to all the five powerful permanent members of the United Nations. ISIL has demonstrated its reach and ability to attack a powerful country. ISIL also had the temerity to threaten attacks on New York and other western targets.
French President Francois Hollande has declared war on terrorism and has vowed to destroy ISIL. Hollande was in Washington on November 24 to meet President Obama and met President Putin on November 26 to discuss the formation of an international coalition to fight ISIL.
Earlier, on November 20, 2015, the UN Security Council met to discuss the threat posed by ISIL. The Security Council adopted French-sponsored Resolution 2249 unanimously, which is open to interpretation of convenience. The positive element of Resolution 2249 is that it was adopted unanimously, which is rare these days. Terrorist attacks have spurred the P5 members to close ranks. The Resolution unequivocally condemned the Paris attack.
A careful reading of the Resolution will reveal that French Quay d'Orsay drafted the resolution cleverly, which none of the members found difficult to vote for. Legal experts have pointed out some of the lacunae in the language of the Resolution. The Resolution has been described by experts as 'creative ambiguity'.
First, the 8-para Resolution, with the usual preamble, was not adopted under Chapter VII. Chapter VII actually authorises military action in order to restore peace and security. The Resolution urges member states to "take all necessary measures in compliance with international law" against ISIL. Here 'necessary measures' have been left vague – open to interpretation of convenience. Thus an aggrieved France took a strong standpoint of authorising self-defence against armed attacks and tripling its air strikes against ISIL, under article 51 of the UN Charter.
Interestingly, the Resolution has not authorised military action directly – but has authorised it implicitly. It has now given post-facto legitimacy to French and American bombing of ISIL. Earlier, Russia entered the war on Syria's request. Britain, which has not yet joined, is now invoking self-defence to go after ISIL. Prime Minister Cameron is currently seeking House of Commons' approval. China is unlikely to join the fray.
Second, Res. 2249 has implicitly recognised ISIL as a state, as it has elements of a state – such as significant territory, a population and access to natural resources (oil).
Third, in its preamble, the Resolution talks about 'respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and unity of all states' – but by authorising actions against ISIL it has purposefully ignored the sovereignty of Syria and Iraq.
The other extremely dangerous development that put everyone on tenterhooks was the shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkish air force on November 24. Since Russia started its operations in Syria, such an incident was just waiting to happen.
Turkish military said it shot the plane after it was repeatedly warned about violating Turkish airspace. Moscow said that the jet was well inside Syrian territory. The Russian plane fell inside Syrian territory and one of the two pilots was killed by a Syrian rebel commander who boasted of the killing. The bellicose narratives coming out of Ankara and Kremlin are contradictory. Who is telling the truth is difficult to ascertain at this stage.
Outraged President Putin has described the incident as a 'stab in the back… by accomplices of terrorists'. He also said Moscow-Ankara relations will have 'serious consequences' and has imposed sanctions on Ankara. Russia has accused Turkey for this "planned provocation", hinting that it was instigated (by US?) to scuttle the Syrian peace process.
The shooting created panic in Europe as Kremlin is already at odds with Nato because of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Alarmed Nato members went into huddle on November 24 at its headquarters in Brussels. Nato and the United Nations have urged Turkey and Russia to show restraint and to deescalate the tension. Russia, however, has moved anti-aircraft missiles in Syria to protect its warplanes.
This sudden escalation of tension between Turkey and Russia will have wide ramifications for the war against ISIL. The UNSC Resolution 2249, despite its vagueness, created an opportunity to build a broad international platform to defeat ISIL. That may now be difficult. The possible casualty of the shooting will be the Syrian peace deal, which is being negotiated in Vienna.
Defeating ISIL will be an impossible task because of differences in the strategies of the players engaged in Syria. ISIL cannot be eliminated by bombs. It can be dismantled only by ground forces, which none of the western nations are willing to commit at this stage.
The fight against ISIL is actually not a fight between Islam and the West. It is in reality a fight by young people, who happen to be Muslims, against depravation, alienation, discrimination and gross injustice. One has to go into the origins of the rise of this violent force and its ability to survive and grow in strength over the past three years. But that is another story.
With so many players in the war against ISIL the situation has definitely become extremely complex and dangerous. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
The writer is former Ambassador and Secretary.