For once, a country other than the US finds itself with no other outlet than the designed futility of the UN Security Council. Russia demanded a meeting of the panel to protest the American attack on Syria’s Shayrat air base last night, calling it a “thoughtless step” and “a clear act of aggression.” Given Russia’s involvement on behalf of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war — including the bombing of population centers — those allegations aren’t likely to impress the other members of the council:
Russia wants an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss U.S. missile strikes on Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday, describing the action as “thoughtless”.
The ministry said in a statement that Russia was also suspending a Syrian air safety agreement with the United States, saying:
“This is not the first time the United States has resorted to such a thoughtless step, which merely exacerbates existing problems and threatens global security.”
Bolivia wanted the emergency meeting to be conducted in private. No way, says Nikki Haley — if countries want to defend Assad, let them do it publicly:
NEW: UN Amb. Nikki Haley denies request for closed session on Syria, says countries defending atrocities should do so in "full public view" pic.twitter.com/JFutj1zQ0f
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 7, 2017
In one sense, this is somewhat comforting in its normality. The Russian action to cut off the “deconfliction line” actually carries more consequences than a complaint to the UN Security Council. It’s a checkbox item rather than a significant response, an opportunity to air grievances around the Festivus pole without any risk of any adverse outcomes — at least not in that forum.
Why? Well, for one thing, the US and its allies France and the UK hold three vetoes on the UNSC, so any resolution scolding the US will go exactly nowhere. Russia knows this because it’s spent the last 15 years using its veto to protect Iran, and also to conduct its military rescue of Assad since 2013, when American resolve faltered. More to the point, however, Russia will have to go to the UNSC to complain about a response to chemical-weapons warfare on civilian populations in violation of UN resolutions and the Geneva Convention to which Russia is a signatory. Rather than take Russia seriously, the UNSC may well pressure the Russian envoy to explain why his country is bombing civilians in Syrian population centers.
If Russia really wanted to escalate this conflict, it wouldn’t stop at the UN Security Council, and likely wouldn’t bother to call for an emergency session at all. They’re laying down a marker for later, and sending a message to Trump that once is enough. At least for now, it’s a “message received” signal.
If so, then that’ll make John McCain happy. He tells Fox News that we just sent a big signal that business as usual from the Obama era is over, and that Russia isn’t going to get a free hand in Syria any longer:
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 7, 2017
McCain still thinks American policy has to catch up to the reality in Syria, but this is a good start. “This beginning had to happen,” he tells Fox News. Russia wants to contain the damage, but just as we experienced as Russia took over the Syrian civil war, the UN Security Council isn’t an effective forum for that purpose.