The UN faces a crisis of credibility at present, and the Syria conflict will provide the latest and most important test. Inspectors are back in Syria; will this mirror the failures that occurred in Iraq?
For the West, one lasting lesson of the Syria crisis should be that the politics of national security today require a legitimacy that must be earned, in practice as well as principle. It is no longer enough to justify military intervention by pointing to a crime against humanity. In the wake of misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, American and European leaders must now also demonstrate that an intervention has a plausible chance of improving the lives of those in peril, as well as advancing the security of those going to war in the name of peace.
For Russia, China and other nations that reflexively oppose Western-led interventions, the test of legitimacy is no less acute. For if they persist in blocking United Nations action where action is justified, they will hasten the day of the organization’s irrelevance. Just as few states or peoples want the Security Council to be a rubber stamp for unilateralist American policy, so, too, will it lose credibility if it serves as a shield behind which unspeakable outrages can take place in the name of safeguarding sovereignty.