The United Nations Issues Cold War Warnings Over Escalations in Syria

In a 2018 global landscape in which democracy faces unprecedented threats, the United Nations has issued strong statements on multiple fronts. From questionable elections to concerns over the fate of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the search for peace and the pursuit of global justice seem to be facing  increasing obstacles that can only be addressed by the actions of a multinational community.


This April, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke clearly following the recent chemical attack in Syria, and the overall message is straightforward: An increase in Cold War rhetoric may lead to a military escalation in the area that cannot be easily contained.

In a series of early-April meetings with the Security Council, following the chemical weapons attack on the town of Duoma in which 60 people were killed, Gutteres warned against a reckless and outdated application of Cold War tactics in a modern world that lacks the safeguards of an earlier era.

A central question the UN will need to address in order to contain the Syrian crisis: How will the April 7th incident—and similar future incidents-- be investigated? Members of the Security Council would like to establish an “accountability mechanism” which would allow such investigations, but Russia objects, claiming that the establishment of an independent investigative process could by used by the US as pretext for an attack on Syria.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has already sent teams to the conflict zone, but Russia has again argued that the team’s conclusions may be used as an attribution mechanism, or a way of assigning blame for the attack as a means of justifying future missile strikes or reckless “military misadventures”.  The Russian UN ambassador has dismissed the investigations as bellicose rhetoric and has claimed that the threat of force “flies in the face of the UN Charter.”

The Russian ambassador claims that sabre rattling has no place in international law, and claims that the US used weak evidence of weapons development as justification for defying the Security Council and launching the Iraq war in 2003.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has responded by reissuing a global rejection of chemical weapons and a reminder that Russia alone has used its veto six times to prevent the condemnation of chemical weapons use in Syria.

Both ambassadors find common ground in the belief that a single military solution will not resolve the issue.  So far, Nikki Haley has stopped short of threatening immediate military action on the part of the United States, but has stated that if the US and its allies took such action, it would be in defense of a universally shared principle: The use of chemical weapons must not be normalized. 

Guterres has expressed concerns over the escalation of rhetoric, but has decisively upheld norms against chemical weapons use. Three weeks have passed since the Duoma attack and a resolution has not yet been reached. Join us as we follow these ongoing events.