Turkey has started to build a case for stronger UN involvement in quelling the violence in Syria within the framework of Article 39 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which envisages the use of force or the threat to use force in the case of a breach of peace or act of aggression.
The logic behind the current campaign, which apparently received the green light from Ankara, is to convince the international public that Syria has become a threat not only to itself but to its region as well, and thus prompt urgent action to stabilize the risks.
Ünal Çeviköz, the Turkish ambassador in London, said recently that Turkey has asked the UN’s Security Council to look into the possibility of invoking Chapter VII, during an interview made available on the website of the Daily Telegraph last week. “If Syria continues to reject the expectations or the realization of the expectations of the international community, the international community has to come forward with a stronger message that it will not allow the Syrian regime to behave like this anymore,” the ambassador emphasized.
Speaking after a meeting on June 30 of world powers in Geneva that convened to discuss a UN-brokered political transition plan for Syria, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said sanctions based on Charter VII should be used against Syria if this plan is not implemented.
“We should endorse this plan in the Security Council; we should endorse it with real consequences, including Chapter VII sanctions, if it is not implemented,” she said.
Turkish officials say without a credible guarantee that there will be sanctions under Chapter VII in case of non-compliance, the new plan drafted by UN-Arab League joint envoy to Syria Kofi Annan would have no effect in practice -- that it would be “just words.”
The plan adopted in Geneva does not include any reference to Chapter VII. Two participants in the meeting, Russia and China -- which have shielded Syria from harsher sanctions in the Security Council -- are against such a reference.
Chapter VII sets out the Security Council’s powers to maintain peace and allows the council to take both military and nonmilitary action when regional security is at stake and is threatened by an act of aggression.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, taking a similar stance to Turkey’s, stated that if the decisions made in the Geneva meeting would not be enough to convince Bashar al-Assad’s regime to end the violence, France would bring the issue to the Security Council under Chapter VII principles.
Article 41 of the chapter enumerates nonmilitary measures that can be imposed on a UN member state in the event of any serious breaches of peace, such as complete or partial interruption of economic relations and severance of diplomatic relations. Article 42, the most important principle of the chapter related to the use of force, reads that in case of the inadequacy of nonmilitary measures, the UN Security Council could take “action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
Although a group of countries including Turkey have already put Chapter VII on their foreign policy agendas, political experts have said they do not believe in the possibility of international consensus-based action within the scope of the UN, due to the challenged but unchanged positions on Syria of Russia and China, permanent members holding veto power on issues decided in the UN Security Council.
Çağrı Erhan, professor of international relations at Ankara University’s faculty of administrative sciences, noted that in order to invoke Chapter VII, gaining the consent of veto-wielding permanent UN Security Council members Russia and China is necessary, adding that the final authority to affirm a decision invoking this chapter is the UN Security Council.
For any resolution to be accepted by the UN Security Council the consent of all five permanent members -- the US, the UK, France, Russia and China -- is a condition.
“The only article Turkey would invoke in Chapter VII is Article 51 on the right to self or collective defense, which would give it the right to take its own military measures against any threat from Syria. This would not require a UN action,” Erhan maintained.
The 17-month Syrian conflict causing concern to the international community has risked evolving into a bilateral conflict between Turkey and Syria since Syria’s downing of a Turkish jet on June 22 over the Mediterranean.
Syrian forces shot down the RF-4E Phantom, an unarmed reconnaissance version of the F4 fighter jet, which, according to Ankara, was on a solo mission to test domestic radar systems and was hit in international airspace after it briefly strayed into Syrian airspace.
Erhan maintained that the jet crisis issue is under the direct mandate of NATO and should have been evaluated under Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which considers an attack on any member state as a threat to all and envisages the use of armed force in such a case. Article 5 takes its mandate from Article 51, which designates any individual or collective defense action as legal.
Article 6 of the NATO Charter defines any attack on the forces of any state parties stationed either in Europe or the Mediterranean Sea as a breach of Article 5. Due to that, if the way for a common UN action stays blocked, whether or not to raise Article 5 of the NATO Charter is up to Turkey in the event of any future confrontation with Syria.
Another political expert, Mensur Akgün, director of the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT) and lecturer in the international relations department at İstanbul Kültür University, agreed with Erhan, claiming that mobilizing the UN for an action in Syria is not possible due to the difference of opinions within the Security Council.
The differing opinions also surfaced during the Geneva conference, which had first created hopes for a consensus-based solution, because it included the participation of Russia and China. But Russia did not abandon its support for Assad’s Baath regime, insisting on the condition that any future transitional government would involve figures from the old regime.
“What is needed is political will. If there is a political will, any enforcement measures could be taken. But if political will is lacking, no matter the extent of the violence, no move is possible,” Akgün stated.