Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s crackdowns on local protestors are attracting attention worldwide. The United Nations and the Arab League have drawn up proposals to address the issue, but have been met with resistance from the Syrian government as well as China and Russia, who vetoed a resolution condemning the Assad regime earlier this month.
The dilemma is not whether multilateral dialogue is taking place regarding Syria, nor is it about the decisions that are being made, such as whether the U.N. or Arab League will use sanctions, force or dialogue. The real dilemma is that, because of the limited capacity of multilateral organizations like the U.N. and the Arab League, dialogue is not being translated into ameliorative action.
The U.N. Security Council attempted to pass a resolution condemning Assad’s government and its crackdown against Syrian protestors. Working in tandem with the U.N., the Arab League created a proposal outlining plans for a joint U.N. and Arab League peacekeeping mission in Syria.
Both attempts have been blocked by member states or by Syria, demonstrating key limitations that these worldwide and regional diplomatic bodies have in policymaking and implementing changes in times of crisis.
These limitations can be attributed to multilateral organizations’ dependencies. Relying on reaching a consensus on decisions can inhibit action, particularly if nations with veto power disagree with the majority, as was demonstrated by China and Russia’s veto of the Security Council’s latest Syria resolution. But even if a consensus is accomplished, there’s a colossal dependency on the nation in question to accept and employ the resolution or proposal. In the Syrian case, Assad has openly rejected U.N. and Arab League intervention, illustrating how difficult it is for organizations to supersede state sovereignty.
Assad’s actions bring into question the function and necessity of multilateral organizations. If they have internal limitations in getting member states to agree on a common policy as well as restrictions in pursuing a common policy at all, then what good is negotiating, dialogue or even diplomacy?
Diplomacy has, however, proven it works. The U.N. plays key roles in alleviating crises. But it is important to keep in mind that international bodies operate within a confined space in the global arena. When key measures are blocked, we must recognize that differing motivations and ideas do clash, and that maybe these clashes themselves will draw more attention to a crisis, amplifying pressure for member states to agree and national governments to value. Avoiding gridlock is key, but so is reconciliation.
Shaza Elsheshtawy is a junior journalism and politics major. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.