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Christine Deakers

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The UN, Syria and Peanuts

Posted: 09/12/2013 2:29 pm

Lucy van Pelt, one of America's greatest "fussbudgets" and Machiavellian 8-year-olds from the syndicated comic strip, "Peanuts" by Charles Schulz, is a solid figure to recall when thinking of the current state of the international community: "If you think peace is a common goal," she told Charlie Brown, "that goes to show how little you know."

After the presidential address, Tuesday night, President Barack Obama decided to postpone a Congressional vote on whether to take a military strike against President Bashar al-Assad for atrocities afflicted against his own citizens.

Multilateral steps quickly developed between allies, Russia and Syria, after Secretary of State John Kerry recommended Syria surrender all stockpiles of chemical weapons to the United Nations. Further steps, and ones which will most likely be entailed in a Security Council Resolution, would require President Assad to sign the Chemical Weapons Treaty, commit to a thorough UN inspection, account, in detail, Syria's stockpile, and then destroy all chemical weapons.

How will U.N. intervention be different this time around, when on Aug. 26, Syrian snipers targeted UN chemical weapons inspectors' as they crossed the capital border, an area under the control of President al-Assad's regime? Does the United Nations now hold more clout, more than just a week ago, now that country leaders are actively seized at the bargaining table?

As citizens of the world, what should people make of the United Nations, an atrophied organ, distant in today's politics, which was once satirically described by 30 Rock's iconic Liz Lemon as, "working in the Galactic Senate in Star Wars."

Countries ideologically standing up against Syria's aberration from international law, can only vie for what's called "negative peace," merely maintaining the absence of war, but not ensuring "positive peace," the mutual betterment by working together. Negative peace, or neutrality, is far more prevalent than positive peace these days, and in regards to the U.S.' response to the Syrian crisis, this peace isn't really peace at all, but precautionary measures.

President Bashar al-Assad's promises are only words; words coming from the same leader who rebuked allegations of using the weapons in the first place. U.N. intervention, a nonviolent and multilateral option, is fraught with potential, saving United States' military forces, dollars, and Syrian civilians. However, the resolution will be all voice and no legs without the follow-through from Syria and Russia, to work in tandem with the United Nations.

On Tuesday, The Atlantic, recalled Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize speech from 2009, highlighting his commitment to just force, as he reminded listeners, "America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons."

Haunting words, all too reminiscent of the "wars within nations" or the "civilians in unending chaos" living in "failed states" or "insurgencies" that Syrian citizens encounter today.

Will the legacy of Syria's egregious violation force the United Nations to claim a more robust position as the world's vigilante in order to protect the citizens of the world? Is this the "positive peace" the international community can wrest from, what seems to be, another stalemate arms race amongst dueling powers? I hope to see the United Nations no longer a lame duck organization, for leaders to congregate, but a far more austere and actionable organ, rising from the chemical fall out of the Syrian crisis.

While diplomacy is the first step toward a resolution, Syria has yet to be held accountable of deploying sarin gas to over 1000 civilians in targeted neighborhoods and hospitals. Measured yet quickly moving, the international community leverages this multilateral process to avoid violence in hopes that President al-Assad will follow through with his end of the bargain: destroying all chemical weapons.

Even if Syria began this process, it's not a quick fix, but years to decades, filled with extremely dangerous and exacerbating difficulties -- chemical neutralization resulting in toxic waste, health and environmental effects, along with the technological hurdles, like separating the weapon from the live agent. This process is typically completed by robots, as Director of Environmental Security and expert on the abolition of chemical weapons, Paul F. Walker, said in a Slate interview.

Vital protocol for peace, nonetheless, the United Nations will be trading in its Blue Helmets for Hazmat suits for years to come.

Now, more than ever, the United Nations must lead the pack, and keep their wits about them. Even, today, Russia and the U.S. are still behind schedule in destroying Cold War stockpiles; in the very slow process of disposing weapons, a dictator can still execute humanitarian atrocities. Whether there are weapons or not, it doesn't necessarily change a government's wherewithal to initiate structural violence against its own people.

President Bashar al-Assad is taking a page from Lucy van Pelt's book, playing into the idea of peace, only to maintain his political might. Could we see the United Nations trip up as the gullible Charlie Brown, only to realize Syria will pull the football out from under the UN?

 

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