Why the U.N. Must Vote

An argument for the rule of law, UN reform, and the benefits and limits of collective security–the dominant theory behind the United Nations Security Council:

In the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and in the United Nations Charter of 1945, the world rejected this system. States were forbidden to enforce the law on their own and had to work through a system of collective security.

For all its obvious failings, the United Nations system has made for a more peaceful world than the one that preceded it. No leader may claim the right to collect debts or gain thrones by going to war. States may fracture into smaller pieces, but they don’t get conquered. Gunboat diplomacy is also out of the question.

The desire to respond to the atrocities in Syria with force is natural. The slaughter of civilians is impossible to watch without feeling morally impelled to act. The dysfunctional Security Council’s refusal to act leaves us feeling helpless in the face of evil.

But the choice between military force or nothing is a false one. Most of international law relies not on force for its enforcement, but on the collective power of nations to deprive states of the benefits of membership in a system of states. Mr. Obama can cut off any remaining government contracts with foreign companies that do business with Mr. Assad’s regime. He can work with Congress to do much more for Syrian rebels and refugees — including providing antidotes to nerve agents, which are in short supply. He can use his rhetorical power to shame and pressure Russia and China.

via On Syria, a U.N. Vote Isn’t Optional – NYTimes.com.


18 thoughts on “Why the U.N. Must Vote”

  1. The UN security council is not united on the matter. The US congress is not united. From the small amount of information that I know, my own heart and brain are not united on the matter. It seems that civilians are dying, rebels are killing, the government is destroying. What will change these acts of brutality? Is Syria trying to get the US involved? What are their motives? It seems like President Bashard al-Assad is in a corner. Who is the true villain?

  2. This article makes a good point at the end. I don’t think that many of us feel comfortable about just sitting by and watching the Syrian government hurt so many of their own civilians. However, sometimes a physical attack is not the best solution. If the US were to launch an attack on Syria, there would definitely be civilian casualties from the war. But if the US starts to put economic sanctions on nations that deal with Syria, they might be able to get their message across.

  3. I have to agree with Clint. People are being hurt, but why do we have to go and fix it? I’m not opposed to helping anyone in the international community who is in need, but I don’t understand why we have to jump to military action to do it. In recent years the choice has seemed to be between “military force or nothing”. I just hope that it doesn’t come down to military force and we can turn to other means to influence the Syria issue for good.

  4. This is great! It’s not our job to be the international police! We ought to leave it up to the U.N. Security Council. I don’t think it is acceptable for us to declare war on a nation that didn’t even attack us or our citizens. That’s not saying that it is okay to kill using chemical weapons, but there is no good reason for us to jump in on this! Let’s use the pathways that are available and legal to force Assad’s regime into atrophy.

  5. Honestly, the United States has lost much of its influence when it comes to controlling other countries. We need to get out of the mindset that as a “superpower” it is our responsibility to cultivate and refine less fortunate countries, because our efforts in the past have obviously not effective. For example, the car bombings in Baghdad this week show how American trained Iraqi security forces are ineffective. Our desire to help the underdog or to intervene in other countries often comes from emotions involving our own quest for independence and civil war.
    We love freedom. Our country is fortunate in the sense that we were able to be successful in the fight for independence and the results of the civil war, and because of this success we believe we hope to impose our Western Civilization upon other countries through tactics that were used in the past—by becoming the crucial assistance that France was in 1776 or the important force that existed behind the Emancipation Proclamation in our civil war; unfortunately, what we have experienced and hope to duplicate as the United States is not effective due to a generational gap.
    This generation gap is made by the reality that our crucial developments as a state were made in a vastly different time period with different weapons and forms of communication. Today in countries like Syria, there are different tools being used as catalysts—such as the internet, video cameras, and more destructive weapons—that are much quicker than past tools like a horse and musket. As a result, the United States cannot possibly understand and take hold of the situation in Syria. Partially due to the way the Syrian civil war has developed and its ability to escalate, and also because the United States features a government structure that is designed to make decisions slowly.
    Honestly, the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and in the United Nations Charter of 1945 in a sense were trying to prevent countries from getting involved in countries beyond a point that is necessary. I realize that there is the argument that we should get involved in Syria on the basis of Israel and Al Queda, but these other forces don’t entirely make a convincible argument for the United States to take action alone against Assad, because using chemical weapons is a global issue. All in all, it will be interesting to see what happens in the future regarding this issue.

  6. Like the United Nations and our own Congress, I too have mixed opinions on this issue. However, I think enforcing the chemical weapons norm is important here. I wish that the United Nations could agree to do that itself, but with Russia on the Security Council, nothing could be less likely. But should the United States intervene instead? I’m not sure. However, I think it’s interesting to note that after his presidency, Bill Clinton said that the thing he regretted most during his time in office was pulling out of Rwanda in 1994. That conflict and the removal of Americans and the United Nations resulted in a bloody genocide that left over 800,000 people dead. When will this conflict in Syria stop? Will it come to that? And what if it does while we stand by to watch?

  7. It’s not as if the Syrian civil war (or whatever you’d like to call it) is the first bad thing to happen in the world. Hunger, disease, poverty, and drug trafficking are all global issues that, in my opinion, have more long-term impact than chemical weapons use.
    If you want to argue that murder is a short-term priority, then how about the war in Somalia, the drug wars in Mexico, and the war in Pakistan?
    I agree with the article in that it is natural to want to respond to the attacks on civilians. Is it logical, though, to spend our resources on this matter simply because it’s in the spotlight, even though it may not have the most net benefit? I don’t think so.

  8. The authors here do (timidly) stand with the American people in opposing a war of aggression in Syria, which is good. But the picture of history they present is extraordinarily inaccurate.

    The United Nations has not put an end to gunboat diplomacy. That’s why the U.S. has aircraft carriers all over the world. The authors present the U.S. as a good-natured (though somewhat confused) actor, deeply committed to goodness and peace, while China and Russia are intransigent in their shameful defense of evil. But there’s not really any reason we should assume that the U.S. approaches the world in a fundamentally different way than any other country. Not, at least, without a serious look at the history of the last 65 years.

  9. To me the real question is, why are we deciding to get involved now? So far there have been (by some accounts) somewhere around 100,000 casualties as a result of the violence in Syria. And no action was taken. Now that chemical weapons have been used, resulting in the death of some thousand people, the US decides to act. I don’t understand why. If it is to show the world that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, it is first worth knowing that Syria has not signed the treaty banning the use of chemical weapons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_Weapons_Convention). So why does the United States feel that it must hold others accountable to upholds standards to which they have not agreed? I think we’d be hard pressed to find many pro-interventionists admitting that the United States should be held responsible for the standards laid out in the Kyoto Protocol.

  10. As said before, what makes the US responsible for deciding what measures should be taken in relation to Syria? What gives it power to intervene? It is not acceptable that one country alone should decide the future of another.The United Nations were established to make sure no country would “enforce the law on their own”. However, whenever the United States decide to “act”, it makes it happen. Either by manipulating countries to get its desired results (“use his rhetorical power to shame and pressure Russia and China”) or by impose its decisions on the rest of the world (Iraq war).

  11. I completely agree with this article that there are other options to a military attack, and I think those would bring better results all around as opposed to a military strike. At the same time, I’m not sure which side we should be helping, as helping either seems to have some sort of negative attached. Helping the rebellion could end up being helping Al Qaeda, depending on how much influence they gain in the rebellion. So, which side should actually be helped? Do we even know for certain that is was Assad and his government that used the chemical weapons?

  12. I really appreciated the beginning of the final paragraph, “the choice between military force or nothing is a false one.” There are many routes and methods that can be used, our military strength is somewhat of a crutch we lean on far too often in regards to our actions abroad. While the use of chemical weapons is atrocious, far more civilians have died in Syria since violence first erupted. I find myself asking what makes some deaths worst than others? Men, women, and children have died even before the chemical weapons were used. Today’s proposal of the U.N. taking control of Assad’s chemical weapons seems to be evidence of diplomacy (or at least power politics) bringing about the best possible solution that does not require the United States to once again wade through the muck that will doubtlessly rise if we take military action in Syria.

  13. I agree with everyone who questions our direct involvement in Syria at all. It is one thing to be a member of an international coalition, but another thing entirely to engage in unilateral acts of war as though President Assad’s actions were directed at our nation and its people. I really question the strategy behind such overt involvement with other nations’ internal conflicts. It seems to me that what might have been a contained, regional conflict will become a direct threat to our nation and its security as a direct result of our uninvited intervention. I think that blowback is a very real thing, and I wonder why there aren’t fewer politicians and policymakers taking it into public account.

  14. I agree with those who are searching for a more diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria. It’s possible to influence international affairs without engaging in military operations. It was comforting to read in the New York Times this morning about Russia’s proposal on Syria’s chemical weapons. “Russia’s surprise proposal appeared to offer the possibility of a diplomatic alternative to military action by addressing the source of the attacks that killed hundreds and provoked worldwide condemnation.” There weren’t too many details in the paper as to how this proposal could pan out but it brings the world one step closer to a more diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria. That is important

  15. The situation with Syria puts the United States in a really tough position. Lots of citizens are uneasy about the idea of war because of the recent past. I can’t help but think why is it the United States’ responsibility to always be the mother. However, we can just sit back and watch the Syrian government brutally attack their civilians. War doesn’t seem to be the best option, but something has to be done. Military actions would lead to more casualties no doubt. There needs to be more discussion of options. Doing nothing is not what the Security Council should be doing.

  16. It’s interesting how when there is situation such as the one in Syria, that everyone turns to the US and asks us what we’re going to do about. Yet, when we are actually involved in the affairs of other nations, we are accused of being a bully and what right do we have. I think that as the world’s super power, we do have a sense responsibility but I don’t think that necessarily means military involvement.
    The fact that so many nations, as well as our own government and people, are divided on the course of action that should be taken shows that there is no obvious solution to the Syrian crisis. But I do think that it is imperative that something is done. The focus, however, should not go straight to military intervention.

  17. I believe there are other options on the spectrum between no action and military intervention that have yet to be fully explored or discussed. In cases such as these it would appear that the UN is the organisation formed especially to respond to such situations, and thus should be the leader and decision maker on the situation in Syria. The UN was formed by mutual consent of a majority of the world’s nations and thus would have more legitimacy in interfering in the affairs of another country than a separate state would.

  18. I would agree with DallinHolden and everyone else who has said that there are other options. At first I was very in favor of a limited strike in Syria but as I continued to watch in the debates in Congress and as I continued to watch news I grew more and more uneasy with that sort of a response. I do believe that SOMETHING must be done because this sort of thing cannot go unanswered but I do no know if military intervention is the right answer at this point because of the complexity of the situation. One it seems be do not know who the good guys and bad guys are and because that line is so shady do we really want to do something that might aid or enemies? At this point the best thing to do is go through and the UN.

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