UN on ISIL: Why the talk?

Source: Telegraph

On Friday, the 13th November 2015 the breaking news of the unfolding horror of a terrorist attack gained global attention. It was Paris, again, and French President Francoise Hollande needed to order a pitiless response in the face of brutal adversity from a terror group that claimed victory in the death of about 130 ordinary civilians but he wanted to do it with the solidarity of his peers. On 20th November 2015, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2249(2015) and gave a concerted green light for the use of “all necessary measures” by its member states to combat terror; making specific reference to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levante (ISIL). In 2011 when that phrase (all necessary measures) was used in a UN Resolution 1973(2011), it led to the death of the leader of the sovereign state of Libya. Hence this news, left me with mixed feelings, especially considering what unintended consequences may emerge in the operationalization of this UN Security council resolution. In this Op-Ed, I discuss what the implications of this UN ‘ISIL Resolution’ are and its possible interpretations for the use of force as a ‘necessary measure’.

There are those who have watered down the seriousness of this resolution, because it does not invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter which authorizes the use of military action.  I hold a different opinion. I think that omission even makes it more serious the force this resolution carries vis a vis the current circumstances. In fact, by Call[ing] upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures” (Operative Clause 5 of that resolution), the UN succeeded in authorizing the use of force without having to take responsibility for it as an organization and gives member states an almost free ride. Bearing in mind the unintended consequences of the ‘No Fly Zone’ resolution on Libya, the sponsors (France) were most probably wary of presenting a draft which, in principle, will be sanctioning military action under the UN banner and committing all member states to it; when it was obvious the frown that could trigger on the face of Russia. Though the France-UK-US alliance seem now united with Russia in ‘action’; they are not united in ‘intention’ about operations in Syria. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of such a horrifying display of brutality by ISIL against not just the Western powers, but also an Eastern power, it was practically impossible for anything (usually a veto) to stand in the way of that resolution being adopted.

 This apparent ‘non-authorization of military action’ is not dampening the resolve by France and Russia to go ahead with their independent air and sea strikes. In fact, when France headed to the UN with the draft, she was just looking for a UN stamp to legitimize her ‘pitiless war’ and give it an international appeal. Well, she got it. For the UK, this was a big piece of good news for the Cameron-led administration as it courted the support of parliament to join the intensified ‘war’ againt ISIL with strong opposition from the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn who publicly expresses opposition to the UK’s involvement in an intensified military action in Syria. Resolution 2249 therefore comes in handy and could help the UK PM scale this political obstacle.  For Russia, she becomes an unintended beneficiary of the French initiative as she is now also set on a direct collision course with ISIS and would be happy to be carrying out a combat mission with the UN’s “blessing”. For the US, well, she has to stand with her allies in defending their shared values of “liberté and égalité and fraternité” and is expected to be ‘firmly on board the currently flying French jets over Syria’.

Clearly, the UN ‘ISIL resolution’ did not intend to authorize military action in principle (otherwise it would have explicitly invoked Chapter 7 of its Charter). Nevertheless, I think that it has authorized it in practice. Its silence on a Chapter 7 mandate does little to stop the jets and ships firing from all corners over Daesh territory. However, in all these aggressions, it is important not to bury operative clause 5 of resolution 2249 which asks that it should be done “…in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, as well as international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law…”. This is where the real dilemma lies if western powers (and now eastern powers) are to avoid the mistakes of Iraq and Libya.

Dennis Penu

Dennis Penu

Staff Writer at InPRA
Dennis Penu is a Ghanaian, and a Principal Research Assistant with the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. He holds an advanced master's degree in Governance and Development studies from the University of Antwerp in Belgium and a research master’s degree in Peace and Development Studies from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.
Dennis Penu

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