In the face of a U.N. Security Council deadlocked on Syria, the United States and its allies could seek other means of legitimizing any retaliatory strike they launch against Syria's government for last week's alleged gas attack on civilians.
There will be many eulogies for Sergio Vieira de Mello in the weeks ahead. Next Monday, Aug. 19, marks the 10th anniversary of the death of the charismatic Brazilian United Nations official in Baghdad. The veteran of humanitarian and peacekeeping missions from Sudan to Timor-Leste had reluctantly taken the post of U.N. special representative to Iraq after the U.S. and its allies toppled Saddam Hussein. When a suicide-bomber killed him and 21 of his colleagues in an attack on their lightly guarded headquarters, U.N. officials were traumatized.
More than 100,000 people have now been killed in the Syria civil war. The United States and Russia vowed in May to press for a follow up to a peace conference held in Geneva last year, which set out a transition plan. However, divisions between Syrian opposition groups and diplomatic hurdles thrown up by President Bashar al-Assad's government have blocked efforts to call a new meeting.
The U.S. and its allies have consistently called for a rapid cessation of hostilities and a negotiated settlement. Yet they are currently pursuing military, diplomatic and humanitarian strategies that could contribute to prolonging the conflict. This could result in either a stalemate inside Syria or even more violence in the country and across the Middle East.
How deep is the divide separating Russia and the United States on Syria? Washington and Moscow have been trying since May to organize an international peace conference to bring an end to the violence. But hopes that such a conference will take place anytime soon - if at all - are fading quickly.
The Arab Spring has reminded us of the importance of properly understanding the tasks, pace and sequencing of the political transition that follows the cessation of conflict or collapse of authoritarian regimes. Transitions are bridges between old and new political orders, and it is essential that they should be resilient to a wide range of potential challenges.
The Security Council’s influence over international affairs perceptibly diminished during 2011. In the first quarter of the year the Council was at the center of simultaneous crises, mandating the use of force to protect civilians in both Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. But this burst of activism proved unsustainable, and the remainder of 2011 has been characterized by increasingly acrimonious divisions within the Council.
Read the full Freidrich Ebert Stiftung paper here.