Will the UN Security Council unite to fight ISIS? What would that mean for Canada?
The attacks in Paris one week ago, the bombing of a Russian airliner two weeks before that and the execution of a Chinese hostage have given all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council a common enemy in ISIS.
France – a permanent member of the Security Council along with Russia, China, the U.S. and U.K. – has called on the international community to solidify a unified front to battle the extremist group that has claimed responsibility for a string of terrorist attacks that killed approximately 400 people over the past three weeks.
In a Friday night session, the 15-member council unanimously adopted a French resolution calling on “member states with the capacity to… take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, on the territory under the control of [ISIS] in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and co-ordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by [ISIS]… and to eradicate the safe haven they have established in Iraq and Syria.”
As of yet, it’s not known if or how Russia and China may work with France, the U.S. and U.K. in a war on ISIS or whether there would be more cooperation at the UN.
The permanent members of the Security Council each have the power to veto resolutions — something Russia and China have repeatedly done when it comes to Syria. That could change moving forward.
“There’s certainly a window of opportunity that is presenting itself as a kind of repercussion of the Paris attacks and… the confirmation in Russia that the bombing in Sinai was, in fact, an ISIS plot,” says Alex Wilner, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Norman Patterson School of International Affairs.
“But, then again, I think there is a problem as to what that action looks like in practice,” Wilner said, adding there are still deep divisions between Russia and the U.S. and its coalition allies.
France was already active in the U.S.-led airstrikes, as is the British military, but unleashed a barrage of airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris last Friday. Russia entered the aerial combat fray earlier this fall, attacking ISIS targets in Syria but also launching attacks against other groups opposed to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
It’s the future of Assad’s regime, which has been waging a brutal civil war since 2011, against opposition rebel forces and against terror groups like ISIS and the al Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra, that has long been a wedge between Russia and the Western powers on the Security Council.
“If they can agree to put the fate of Assad on the backburner for a temporary period of time and concentrate on the ISIS problem… then probably some common action might well be possible,” says David Charters, a senior fellow with the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick.
Then there’s China, which has has vowed to “bring to justice” the killers of Chinese citizen Fan Jinghui, whom ISIS claimed to execute in the latest edition of its propaganda magazine Dabiq.
But, China has largely kept its distance from Syrian affairs and ISIS, except when it sides with Russia at the Security Council to veto resolutions.
“The inclination [for Russia and China] to veto resolutions will be much reduced,” says Walter Dorn, a professor in the Department of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada. “There’s a lot of sympathy with France right, so [the French] can use that sympathy to diplomatic advantage.”
So, where does that leave Canada and the future of its role in the fight against ISIS?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is resolute in following through with his promise to pull Canadian fighter planes out of the Middle East at the end of March, when the commitment Stephen Harper made to the international coalition expires. But, Trudeau said he intends to send more Canadian soldiers to the region to continue training local fighters.
“The new government finds itself in this strange position of having just come to power on a dedicated platform of reshaping our intervention in Syria just at the moment when global sentiment is going the opposite way,” Wilner said.
He agrees training local forces to fight ISIS is a valuable contribution for Canada to make, but he says Canada could be “in a sticky spot” diplomatically if there is UN Security Council movement on fighting ISIS.
Even then, Canada is under no obligation to put jets back in the skies over Iraq and Syria or Canadian soldiers in the line of fire, explains Charters. He says and he doesn’t think a Security Council resolution would sway Trudeau at this point. But, Trudeau could hold to his promise for now and reevaluate it down the road, Charters adds.
Dorn, on the other hand, says military might is just one element in the fight against ISIS and there are other actions that need to be taken into consideration.
“I don’t think ISIS can be defeated militarily, he said. “You have to look at ultimately defeating it through a combination of political [measures], winning hearts and minds, along with military and economic and many other [types] of measures.”
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