UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was on CBS’s Face the Nation today and she made a significant announcement.
Margaret Brennan: We’re joined now by the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, she is in New York this morning. Good morning to you Madam Ambassador. The White House said there have been reports that since April of last year there have been at least 30 chemical weapons attacks in Syria; some involving sarin. Why did this particular attack last week warrant military action but the others didn’t?
Nikki Haley: Good morning, Margaret. Well I think that obviously this was cumulative. He, Assad, had been using chemical weapons multiple times, but, more so, this was about the Security Council resolutions. We had up until this point had six different resolutions that would have dealt with investigative mechanisms for chemical weapons and Russia had vetoed all of them. And so we felt like we had gone through every diplomatic measure of talking that we could and it was time for action and I think one thing that we hope Assad got the message on is the international community will not allow chemical weapons to come back into our everyday life and the fact that he was making this more normal and that Russia was covering it up. All that has to stop.
Margaret Brennan: Are there any consequences for Assad’s patrons Russia and Iran who continue to protect him?
Nikki Haley: Absolutely. So you will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchen will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn’t already. And they will go directly to any sort of companies that we’re dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use. And so I think everyone is going to feel it. At this point I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message and our hope is that they listen to it.
There are several items that Haley hits here.
First, there is a feeling that the horror of using chemical weapons may be going away. Syria has used them several times. Kim Jong Un had his half-brother whacked in Kuala Lumpur last year. The Russians tried to use a nerve agent to take out a couple of inconvenient Russians in Salisbury.
In fact, Theresa May directly tied the Syria strike to the Russian attempted hit just before the Syria attack. So increasing the price for using chemical weapons is part of an attempt to “de-normalize” their use. We should all hope that works. What we do when someone other than Syria does this remains to be seen.
A second and major point is that the US is trying to restore an international order that makes the UN Security Council worthwhile. In retrospect, that’s probably why we took the time to get the Brits and French on board for Syria (heaven knows the generated de minimis combat power).
The message sent by three members of the Security Council telling Russia that using its veto to protect its ally wasn’t going to work anymore was much more significant than a unilateral US strike.
The other major point is that the Russians aren’t going to be allowed to sell nerve agent production equipment and chemical precursors and not be held accountable for how they are used.
The proof of the pudding is always in the eating, but this is a solid first step.