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Getting around the Security Council impasse

Published onsdag 28 augusti 2013 kl 09.00
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Professor of International Law Ove Bring, Photo: Jörgen Heikki, Sameradion.
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A man and woman mourning a dead body after a suspected gas attack in Syria, Photo: Scanpix.
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The Security Council has deadlocked over the Syrian issue, Photo: Bebeto Matthews/Scanpix

There’s been international concern about the situation in Syria for more than a year, now especially after the reports of chemical gas attacks against civilians.

But the Western nations’ calls for intervention against the Assad regime have been blocked by Russia and China at the United Nations Security Council.

Sweden’s foremost expert on international law says there’s precedent for going around the Security Council.

After the reports of chemical gas attacks in Syria, much of the world community has been talking about some kind of intervention against the Assad regime. American President Obama talks of a red line being crossed, and his Secretary of State John Kerry calls the attacks a “moral obscenity”.

So far Russia and China have blocked any action against the Syrian regime with their vetoes in the United Nations Security Council. But actions outside the UN are being suggested, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague says the West could respond without the backing of the Council.

How could that work? Ove Bring is Sweden’s foremost expert on international law, and he says there is a way to work around a blocked Security Council.

Ove Bring says it’s called Uniting for Peace, a mechanism in United Nations history where the General Assembly takes over if the Security Council is unable to reach a decision.

This all goes back to the Korean war of 1950-1953. The only reason the United Nations took action was because when North Korea invaded the South, the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council. So a resolution could be passed in its absence. Later on, when the Russians returned, they used their veto against further action.

That was when Uniting for Peace, General Assembly resolution 377, was passed, stating that if the Security Council is unable to act because of a lack of agreement among the permanent members, the General Assembly can step in.

But this has only been tested once, in Korea. What weight does this have now?

"If it was applied," Ove Bring says, "it would show that this mechanism is alive, and it would put pressure on the Security Council to act."

Ove Bring spent nearly 20 years at the Swedish foreign ministry, before becoming a professor in International Law at first Uppsala and then Stockholm University. Since 1999 he has been a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.

So how could the General Assembly act?

"The assembly could pass a non-binding resolution recommending that those states that are willing to intervene, do so together. This," he says, "would create legitimacy for the United States, the EU, and Arab states to work together, without Russia or China being involved. There is a legitimacy, he says, if intervention isn’t from just NATO or just the United States, but rather cooperation between countries in three continents."

This, Ove Bring says, would be a political necessary.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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