The United Nations has unanimously passed the resolution tabled by France on fighting the extremist groups operating in Syria and Iraq. The speed with which this has happened is partly explicable by the sense of horror over the terrorist strikes in Paris and partly by the fact that the Islamic State (IS) has drawn the blood of the citizens of all the P-5 world powers in such a short span of time. This was beyond the capability of the al-Qaeda. Unsurprisingly, the P-5 harbor a strong revenge mentality, having been made to look impotent.
But, when baser instincts trump reason, there is cause to worry, and Resolution 2249 on Counterterrorism adopted last night in New York generates serious misgivings. First, what does R 2249 say? The following passages are the most significant:
- By its violent and extremist ideology, its terrorist acts, its continued gross systematic and widespread attacks directed against civilians, abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, including those driven on religious or ethnic ground, its eradication of cultural heritage and trafficking of cultural property, but also its control of significant parts and natural resources across Iraq and Syria and its recruitment and training of foreign terrorist fighters whose threat affects all regions and Member States, even those far from conflict zones, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security.
- The resolution also ‘calls upon all Member States that have the capacity to do so take all the necessary measures … on the territory under the control of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL’.
The resolution also repeated the earlier mantra on Member States “to intensify efforts to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to Iraq and Syria and to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism, and reaffirmed that those responsible for terrorist acts, violations of international humanitarian law or violations or abuses of human rights must be held accountable”. It also cited the group’s its control natural resources in Iraq and Syria and its “recruitment and training of foreign terrorist fighters whose threat affects all regions and Member States, even those far from conflict zones.”
But the operative part is that R 2249 mandates intervention in Syria and Iraq by those member states “that have the capacity to do so”. This is an extraordinary UN Security Council mandate – no one is in charge, but everyone is in charge – that is, all those member countries that have the political will and the military muscle to intervene in Syria and Iraq.
What about the legitimate governments of Iraq and Syria, which are UN member countries too? The R 2249 simply ignores them as inconsequential entities. This is an appalling stance. Russia, which has been shouting from the roof top regarding the sanctity of the principle of national sovereignty to berate the US-led coalition, simply made a U-turn. Crass opportunism, pragmatism, tradeoff, diplomacy – call it what you will, but a core principle in inter-state conduct upheld under the UN Charter has been given the pass. Is this any different from the rape of Abyssiniya when the League of Nations was alive?
On a practical plane, too, a host of issues come up if — rather, when — the UN member countries “that have the capacity to do so” begin to invoke the UN mandate to step up their military intervention in Syria. In fact, no sooner than the R 2249 was adopted in New York, Turkey’s F-16 aircraft scrambled to cross the border into Syria to take “the first step” to create a ‘no-fly-zone’ and ‘safe area’ within northern Syria. In good measure, Turkey has also threatened Russia with “serious consequences” unless it ceased its air attacks on the region “as early as possible”. According to Turkish reports, four American F-15 fighter aircraft also took part in the operation in the early morning today in support of the “first step” to create the ‘safe area’. (Read my article in Asia Times Turkey gets toehold on Syrian territory, finally.)
And, paradoxically, what has been Turkey’s track record in Syria? It is the godfather of the IS. (Read a research paper by Columbia University, here, detailing Turkey’s underhand dealings with the extremist groups in Syria.) Again, one of the countries with the most compelling concern over the terrorist threat emanating from Syria happens to be Israel, which of course, figures in the UN documents as a promoter of the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, in Syria. But then, curiously, Israel reserves the right to define its targets under R 2249.
Russia and Iran may not think Hezbollah to be a terrorist group, but Israel most certainly does. Make no mistake, Israel regards the involvement of Hezbollah and Iran in the Syrian conflict as the number one ‘terrorist’ threat to its national security. Does Israel possess “the capacity to do so”? You bet it does. Can anyone object to the legitimacy of Israel’s concerns? Even if anyone were to object to, will Israel be stopped on its tracks if and when it decides to “take all necessary measures” in Syria and Iraq to protect its national security interests? According to reports, during his recent visit to Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed the case for US backing for an Israeli military intervention in both Iraq and Syria. ‘Bibi’ was apparently confident that Israeli pilots can do a first-rate job to vanquish the IS from the face of the earth.
Clearly, R 2249 opens a Pandora’s box. Like the old saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth. This is no way to wage the war against terrorism. The war against terrorism cannot be fought with cruise missiles and long-range strategic bombers alone, which make spectacular PR stuff for arms exports. This war also involves a painstaking political battle, which is, perhaps, the most crucial battle to be fought. But R 2249 is silent on that score. How can one overlook that the IS didn’t arise from thin air? If IS attracts Chechens, Uighurs and Muslims from the slums of Paris in their hundreds or thousands, why is it happening? Simply put, whose hand is it that is clean without blood stains, amongst the P-5 member countries?
To my mind, the IS problem is much much more than one of terrorism. This needs to be understood. (Read an excellent essay by William Polk This Is How Paris Fits into ISIS’s Long-Term Strategy.)There is a whole history of injustice, manipulation, coercion, repression and state violence against the Muslim peoples in various regions through our modern history that cannot be pushed under the carpet. All that R 2249 can achieve is that it will legitimize the horrendous violence that is about to be let loose in Syria and Iraq by the interventionist powers in the coming months. Russia lost the moral high ground it was painstakingly climbing. It should not have got carried away by the dizzying thought that last night its diplomats stood shoulder to shoulder with their Western counterparts for the first time after the coup in Kiev in February 2014.