Continuing the Discussion: Aleppo

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Can a 66- year-old Security Council Resolution Save Syria?


Syria is our generation’s symbol of the failure of the international community to appropriately and effectively respond to a crisis. As peace agreements flop and ceasefires break down, 250,000 civilians are trapped between Syrian ground forces and the incredibly lethal BETAB-500, also known as the ‘bunker buster’, a 500-kilo bomb designed to destroy concrete structures such as bomb shelters.

Last week, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani floated the option of circumventing the United Nations Security Council to force a UN intervention in Syria through the General Assembly, using a method called the Acheson plan. Although the plan might seem to be motivated by a desire to break the current impasse, it is a highly ill-advised strategy.

Qatar itself has been involved in Syria for years. The oil state has armed rebels with heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles since 2013, and new evidence seems to indicate that Qatar provides support to ISIS. These factors need to be kept in mind when evaluating the current climate.

Although misguided, breaking the United Nations Security Council stalemate by circumventing it is not legally impossible. On November 3, 1950, the Security Council adopted Resolution 377 A (V) to allow the UNGA to actively take responsibility for an ongoing conflict discussed in the UNSC. The resolution gave the UNGA two new powers: convening special UNGA sessions at the behest of a majority of UNSC members, and passing recommendations on the use of force in situations perceived to be global security threats. While UNGA recommendations are not legally binding, they can provide legal justification for U.N.-backed action.

Only in the case of the Korean War was the Acheson plan partially implemented. Even then, the adoption of UNGA Resolution 498 (V) on February 1, 1950 was mostly a symbolic show of U.N. support for the ongoing US intervention in the area; the consequences of the Korean War was disastrous. In a little over three years, over 180,000 allied soldiers fell, half a million died on the Communist side and 2.5 million civilians were injured or killed. With the resolution, the conflict itself was frozen and the newly drawn borders differed only marginally from the frontlines at the war’s inception.

In today’s circumstances, will recourse to the Acheson plan solve the complex situation in Syria and relieve the plight of its population? It is unlikely for a number of reasons.

First, the Acheson plan has never been fully tested and implemented. Second, there is no peace to keep.  With its host of conflict parties, Syria is not only a proxy between two global superpowers but also a highly complex battlefield with a range of local actors motivated by regional interests.

As a result, the Syrian War could become bloodier than the Korean War and its gains would likely be even more limited. With Russia increasing its military presence in Syria, implementing the Acheson plan would likely rupture any last strands of hope for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, precipitate an all-out war and further undermine an already unstable global order.

Al-Thani’s plan would be nothing short of disastrous. If the bombing continues, Aleppo could be our generation’s Srebrenica. Our powerlessness could be the tragedy of our time. While chillingly dissatisfactory, U.N. involvement in Syria should be limited to diplomatic effort and humanitarian aid, and only truces may offer temporary relief.


Aleppo’s Humanitarian Crisis and Its Potential Solution


In Aleppo, tens of thousands have died. Millions have become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within Syria or refugees in foreign countries. This process of death and displacement is ongoing.  

The Russian air campaign has significantly increased the lethality of the Syrian government’s war effort in the country (especially in the Aleppo region), with the deaths of thousands of civilians. Though Syrian and Russian aircraft have claimed to target only “terrorists” and “extremists,” the reality has been the deliberate targeting of civilian residences, hospitals, and IDP camps in opposition-held parts of Aleppo. Recent ceasefire negotiations between the United States and Russia failed again about a month ago. What then is to be done?

There are no easy solutions to the problem at hand, but there are some options worth considering. The United States and NATO should contemplate imposing further sanctions on Russian assets, pending a change in Russian involvement in Aleppo (and other parts of Syria). Russia’s involvement in the conflict encourages the Syrian Air Force to pursue a military strategy without concern for the destruction of civilians. If the international community does not find a way to restrict Russia’s ability to inflict terrible destruction on Aleppo and its inhabitants, thousands more will die and the war itself will undoubtedly drag on. Perhaps more importantly, we may see the Assad regime stay in power for years to come a result at odds with the will of a substantial number of Syrians.

In the meantime, while the parties to the conflict struggle to reach a peace agreement, there are a number of actions that can be taken to relieve civilian suffering.

The U.S. must take the lead in the processing of Syrian refugees. Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have taken in millions of refugees despite the fact that the residents believe that the influx of refugees is already straining their institutions in an unsustainable way. Furthermore, European countries are already struggling for ways to accommodate the more than one million refugees who have arrived at their borders. With this context in mind, the U.S. is simply not pulling its own weight in an international humanitarian crisis.

Though certain policymakers have called into question the security viability of allowing more refugees into the U.S., the facts simply don’t back up their fears. Refugee vetting procedures are lengthy and thorough, which is why we haven’t seen any incidents of Syrian or other refugees committing acts of terror. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. has resettled approximately 784,000 refugees; three have been convicted of plotting terrorist attacks. They were caught.

By taking in more refugees and increasing economic sanctions, the international community can more fully work to ameliorate the crisis in Syria.

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