Tim Dunne is Professor of International Relations at the University of Queensland.
As Australians make up their minds about the forthcoming election, Australia as a sovereign state could also be voting soon on a UN Security Council resolution authorising force against the Assad regime.
Before a resolution is debated in the Security Council chamber, there are a few important prior steps. First, there has to be a consensus that there is sufficient evidence that the attacks on 21 August were executed by Assad's military.
In the last 24 hours the UK has signaled that it will await the findings of the UN inquiry into the alleged use of chemical weapons before having another parliamentary vote on the possible use of force; this decision has been taken to appease Conservative MPs who have doubts about the action.
A similar story is unfolding in New York. The UK delegation circulated a draft resolution (28 August) to other permanent members. 'This isn't going anywhere' was the response from one unnamed diplomat. One reason is that Russia has publicly stated that it too wants to know the outcome of the UN investigation in Damascus before it will consider any proposals on what happens next.
If there is a 'smoking gun' and information relating to the case is both clear and compelling (it was neither in the case of Iraq in 2003) then the US, Britain, and France will take the matter to the Security Council. Another informal discussion will happen among the P5 at which point a decision will be taken on whether to put the resolution 'into blue' – Security Council speak for a resolution to be voted on by all members.
International thinking on the legitimacy of intervention has evolved since Kosovo in 1999, when pro-intervention countries did not put a resolution to a vote. In the current case, it is likely that the P3 will force a vote, providing they can count on affirmative votes from the elected members. Even if Russia and China veto, the number of votes in favour of a resolution could be as many as voted in favour of the Libya intervention, even though the resolution will not pass.
The use-of-force resolution in relation to Libya (Res. 1973) was passed by 10 positive votes, 5 abstentions and no vetoes. The elected membership of the Council could be more compliant in relation to Syria: remember that in 2011, the elected membership (E10) included powerful countries who were traditionally sceptical of interventionism (Brazil, Germany, India).
By pushing for a vote they are unlikely to win, the P3 – with strong support from the E10 – could try to represent any veto-waiving powers as being isolated. Again, the analogy with 2003 is intriguing: knowing that he would lose the vote in the Council, then Prime Minister Blair warned other permanent members not to use the veto 'unreasonably'.
Back in 2002 and early 2003, France was one of the permanent members opposed to war. With hindsight, the threat to veto the war was anything but 'unreasonable', given the false prospectus peddled by the UK and the US in the build-up to the war of regime change. The case against Assad in 2013 may be a great deal stronger than it was in relation to Iraq in 2003; how the debate evolves in the Security Council will decide whether this claim holds true. Either way, as Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi was surely right to ask early this year, 'Might it be said...that the solution of that war is in your hands, members of the Security Council?'
Photo by Flickr user United Nations Photo.