Enforcing the Law and Punishing Syria

by Seth Weinberger

Lots of news today regarding the involvement of Syria in Lebanese politics and specifically the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik a-Hariri. On the same day that the UN annouced that it has new evidence of Syrian involvement in the assassination and accused Syria of obstructing the investigation, a car bomb exploded in Beirut , killing a prominent anti-Syrian legislatorGebran Tueni (suspicious, no?).

Now, while we haven’t seen the complete results of the UN investigation into Hariri’s death, nor do we know whether Syria will be implicated in today’s bombing, let’s assume that Syria is eventually determined to be complicit, if not responsible, for both acts. Here is an excellent test of whether the UN is willing and able to enforce its own laws. Assassination of the political leaders of another state is, short of naked aggression, about the most clearly illegal act one state can take (leaving aside the question Julian considers here of targeted killings/assassinations during times of war). Will the UN punish Syria? Will Russia accept the evidence and judgment against its former client and refrain from vetoing any sanctions? My guess is that international opinion and pressure will be so overwhelming that Russia will go along with any punishment against the Syrian state, but that the punishment will be sadly weak. Sanctions are a fairly inefficient tool of statecraft, have little effect (link is to the JSTOR database; subscription required), and typically punish the civilian population more than political leadership (I’ll consider the problem of sanctions in a post later this week). So, for those of you who have faith in the UN and international law, how do you see this playing out? Will the UN be able to punish Syria sufficiently, and what form will that punishment take?


One Response

  1. Do you forsee significant Lebanese resistance to continued Syrian interference in their intenral affairs, or will Syrian power continue to silence dissent?

    And, even if action is taken against Syria, do you think it will lessen Syria’s ability or will to conduct such operations on Lebanese soil?

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