In Brief

Syria crisis: why the UN Security Council is impotent

Organisation has ‘inglorious history of missing chances to avert catastrophe’

The UN Security Council is expected to meet today to discuss the Syrian crisis and government-backed assault on Eastern Ghouta - described by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “hell on Earth”.

The council is also likely to vote on a draft resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations.

But all eyes will be on Syria’s ally Russia should the vote commence. Moscow has vetoed UN Security Council action on Syria 11 times since the civil war began in 2011, “shielding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government”, says Reuters.

In January, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Russia’s failure to resolve the issue of chemical weapons use in Syria called into question Russia’s relevance to the resolution.

“At a bare minimum, Russia must stop vetoing and at least abstain on future UNSC resolutions on this issue,” Tillerson said.

The council’s five permanent members - the US, the UK, France, Russia and China - all have the power to veto a resolution. This means that the body’s ability to maintain peace often depends upon its members’ narrow interests -  leading critics to ask whether the council has any value.

In August, war crimes expert Carla del Ponte quit the UN panel probing alleged war crimes in Syrian, calling it “pointless”. “I give up,” del Ponte said. “The states in the Security Council don’t want justice.”

While military action taken without council’s blessing is still typically regarded as illegitimate, the UN has been “reduced to the status of a helpless spectator by Russia”, says The Atlantic.

Hannah Thomas-Peter of Sky News described the council last year as “a useless talking shop” with an “inglorious history of missing chances to avert catastrophe”.

She pointed to Syria, Rwanda and Bosnia as examples of its ineffectiveness.

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