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Syria Proves UN Impotence

By John-Walt Boatright  —

On Thursday, April 6, 2017, President Donald Trump took decisive action against Syrian use of chemical weapons against its civilians by conducting a missile strike on a Syrian airbase. Supporters called the strike “proportionate and just,” given Assad’s genocidal behavior. Opponents assert the illegality and unconstitutionality of Trump’s actions, citing Congress’ explicit power to declare war. By one experienced commentator, it was characterized as “the single fastest punishing strike” she had ever witnessed.

Just as with other powers residing with our federal government, the Founders installed checks and balances across every foreseeable issue to decentralize power in one entity. It sparks an age-old debate between the executive and legislative branches: how do we reconcile Congress’ constitutional authority to declare war with the President’s role as Commander-in-Chief as defined in the Constitution?

However, in an international context, culpability can be squarely placed on the structural deficiencies of the United Nations, rendering it impotent. The Security Council is considered the most effective and powerful arm of the United Nations. But, it is still remarkably weak, given the discord among its member countries.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Allied Powers celebrated their victory by awarding permanent status with veto powers to the five preeminent countries – Russia, Great Britain, China, France, and the United States. Ten other voting countries who continuously rotate compose the rest of the National Security Council for a total of 15 members.

Here lies the inherent flaw in this setup. These countries have developed strained relationships in the decades following WWII. Since the Syrian crisis started in 2011, three resolutions to sanction the Syrian government have been vetoed by the Russian representative. When you have a player who also serves as the referee, one knows who will likely win the game. But only if you accept the rules as prescribed by the United Nations, an ill-conceived organization with no real teeth or direction.

Key takeaways from this Syrian quagmire:
The Syrian civil war is complicated, primarily because it is not solely a civil war due to two intrusive parties. First, ISIS, a common enemy of many nations such as the US and Russia, maintains control of territories interspersed throughout the country. Secondly, Russia enthusiastically backs the Syrian government in all its tyranny because it is in their geopolitical interests. Russia’s Putin and his bold invasion into Ukraine to capture Crimea shows just how far he will go. Outside parties have transformed this civil war into a free-for-all within the remnants of a border.

The proposed budget cuts to the UN are justified considering the recent events in Syria. Of an international peacekeeping organization with 190-something member countries, the United States  contributes 21% to UN operations, the most of any other member country. How fair is it for one country to bankroll a fifth of the budget to the benefit of the other 200 countries? Furthermore, what value remains when a peacekeeping entity fails to keep the peace?

Finally, despite an initial lack of foreign policy credentials, Nikki Haley has quickly become Trump’s de facto foreign policy leader.  Haley has been insightful in her explanations to the American people and forcefully articulate in communicating repercussions and expectations to the international community, including Russia. She has largely overshadowed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as the chief spokesperson for Trump’s foreign policy. Should Tillerson vacate his position, Haley will be next in line for the post, no doubt providing a training ground for the presidency down the road.

Russia, Assad, ISIS – there are no good guys in this conflict. As it has often done historically, the United States takes a moral stand to the acclaim of the international community while the United Nations objectively fails in its only purpose for existence.

As time trudges on, and international conflicts ebb and flow, so the world becomes more familiar with the failings of the United Nations, hopefully drawing ever closer to its eventual dissolution.