The Perils of Prejudging the United Nations

As the byzantine diplomacy on Syria continues, one thing is clear. In a dynamic environment, the UN Security Council can move from the cheap seats to center stage very quickly. At least for a moment, the multilateral process that President Obama described as "hocus pocus" is getting another look. The New York Times notes the  ...

As the byzantine diplomacy on Syria continues, one thing is clear. In a dynamic environment, the UN Security Council can move from the cheap seats to center stage very quickly. At least for a moment, the multilateral process that President Obama described as "hocus pocus" is getting another look. The New York Times notes the  sudden shift:

[A] senior White House official said Tuesday that administration officials — who just last week had been dismissing the United Nations as ineffective in the Syrian conflict — had begun working with American allies at the United Nations to further explore the viability of the Russian plan, in which the international community would take control of the Syrian weapons stockpile. 

It's quite possible this will all amount to nothing, and that the West will ultimately strike Syria without the Council's blessing. But the volte-face is a good reminder that blanket judgements on the organization's utility are ill-advised. The Council is an important diplomatic tool but its impact is always going to depend on the particular political dynamics at work. Acknowledging that reality is difficult for both sides of the often overheated debate about the organization. 

As the byzantine diplomacy on Syria continues, one thing is clear. In a dynamic environment, the UN Security Council can move from the cheap seats to center stage very quickly. At least for a moment, the multilateral process that President Obama described as "hocus pocus" is getting another look. The New York Times notes the  sudden shift:

[A] senior White House official said Tuesday that administration officials — who just last week had been dismissing the United Nations as ineffective in the Syrian conflict — had begun working with American allies at the United Nations to further explore the viability of the Russian plan, in which the international community would take control of the Syrian weapons stockpile. 

It’s quite possible this will all amount to nothing, and that the West will ultimately strike Syria without the Council’s blessing. But the volte-face is a good reminder that blanket judgements on the organization’s utility are ill-advised. The Council is an important diplomatic tool but its impact is always going to depend on the particular political dynamics at work. Acknowledging that reality is difficult for both sides of the often overheated debate about the organization. 

David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of books on the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, and is at work on a new book about governance of the oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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