On 27 September 2013, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2118 (2013). The resolution broke the diplomatic impasse over Syria in the Security Council. It was celebrated as a diplomatic success and as a ‘precedent-setting’ resolution. It marks fundamental progress, on at least two fronts: (i) It shifted the debate on the use of force from claims of unilateral intervention to collective security action (which is in line with the spirit of the Responsibility to Protect idea under the World Summit Outcome Document); and (ii) it reinforced of the normative regime regarding the ban of the use of chemical weapons. (photo: mustard gas shells, credit)
As has been aptly noted, the text of resolution has not been expressly adopted under Chapter VII. But this does not detract from its binding force (Article 25 of the UN Charter) and its legal significance. The most immediate consequence of Resolution 2118 (2013) is that averted the threat of unilateral military strikes. The text of the resolution makes it makes it clear that military action to enforce compliance with obligations under the Resolution needs to be channelled through the Security Council. The wording differs from Security Council Resolution 1441 (2002) which afforded Iraq ‘a final opportunity to comply with … disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council’ (para. 2), and recalled that ‘Iraq […] will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations’ (para. 13). Resolution 2118 (2013) maintains the prerogative of the Council to decide on future action. It states that the Security Council ‘decides’ on measures ‘in the event of non-compliance with’ the resolution (para. 22). This makes it hard to justify unilateral strikes, based on the interpretation of the Resolution, as argued in the context of Iraq, where Resolution 1441 was invoked in conjunction with Resolution 678 (1990) to justify the use of force. The wording of Resolution 2118 adopts a different approach. It suggests that the burden lies on the Council to reach agreement. It leaves some choice as to the type of measure to be adopted (e.g., sanctions or other measures under Article 41, or coercive measures under Article 42). But the wording (‘The Security Council ‘[d]ecides […] to impose measures under Chapter VII’) seems to reflect an implied pre-commitment to act which is visibly designed to prevent risks of future inaction by the Council.
Secondly, the resolution marks new ground since it proclaims a ‘new’ norm regarding the universal ban on the use of chemical weapons. It clarifies that ‘the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security’ (para. 1).It thus embraces a new commitment by the Security Council to the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons ‘anywhere’, ‘anytime’ and ‘under any circumstances’. As argued by Marko Milanovic, this universal ban bears resemblance with the generic finding in the preamble of Resolution 1373 (2001) that ‘acts, like any act of international terrorism, constitute a threat to international peace and security’. It puts pressure on the Council to deal with such incidents in the future. It coincides with parallel developments in international criminal law, i.e. the extension of the war crime of employing poison, poisonous weapons or prohibited gases, liquids, materials or devices to non-international armed conflicts at Kampala, as discussed by Dapo Akande.
But like the preceding discourse on intervention, the resolution contains a fundamental contradiction. Read the rest of this entry…