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Opinion: Western weakness

Loay Mudhoon / agSeptember 28, 2013

Agreeing to a UN resolution to destroy Syria's chemical weapons is an important step forward for UN diplomacy. However, it also reflects an overall lack of assertiveness on the West's behalf, says DW's Loay Mudhoon.

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At last it's been lifted - the two-and-a-half-year embargo at the UN Security Council, preventing every form of internationally coordinated action regarding the conflict in Syria. After weeks of discussion and negotiations between Russian and American diplomats, the UN's most powerful body has adopted an internationally binding resolution that compels Syria to destroy all of its chemical weapons.

It appears that the Obama administration in particular is pleased with this new resolution. US diplomats showed signs of relief that the military attack against Syria is no longer necessary - a risky maneuver, highly unpopular back at home. But they are trying also to suggest to the international community that the world's only remaining superpower remains determined to use full force against Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad, should he not fully comply with the demands of the UN Security Council.

Mere wishful thinking

It's without a doubt that entering a multilateral peace process could - at its best - mark a turning point in the continuous efforts to mitigate the complex Syrian crisis. But upon closer scrutiny, the American confidence in this matter is likely to turn out as mere wishful thinking. After all, they had to meet the Russians more than half way to have them abandon their irresponsible line of vetoes within the Security Council.

This, too, is the reason that the current resolution does not contain any mechanism that would allow sanctions according to chapter seven of the UN Charter - ranging from economic sanctions to military action. Considering the lessons leant from dealing with the Assad regime over the past two years, this US concession to the Russians may turn out to be an act of negligence. As a reminder: Even the dedicated, modest and experienced UN special envoy Kofi Anan fell victim to the Assad regime one year ago - a regime that knows how to double-cross the international community like no other player in the Middle East.

"Red line doctrine" watered down

More reckless still and likely more consequential is the pass the US administration gave on a clear and unambiguous condemnation of the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons. And there's little doubt on the regime's use of such weapons given UN reports. It appears a reminder is necessary that the use of internationally outlawed chemical warfare against civilians clearly crosses the red line as previously defined by US President Obama.

The dangerous watering down of this self-defined "red-line-doctrine" reveals the lack of assertiveness within the Obama administration, which could well have devastating results for the credibility of the West as a whole.

What the current resolution lacks is a roadmap towards a ceasefire in the country, and so far it remains unclear how the numerous conflict parties in Syria and their regional sponsors will react to this resolution. This leaves the US with no other choice but to hope for the active cooperation of regional stakeholders such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. What's clear is that the West will not be able to act alone to stop the destructive momentum Syria's civil war has gained.