Article

For the UN Syria is both Promise and Peril

Published

25th September 2013

The agreement between the United States and Russia to rid Syria of chemical weapons should please — but also terrify — anyone hoping to return the United Nations to relevance. After the ugly, ignominious train crash of the United Nations’ inspections process in Iraq a decade ago, the question is whether the United Nations can deliver both international legitimacy and a genuine prospect for peace.

Syria’s suffering did not begin with the Assad regime’s criminal use of chemical weapons — and it won’t end with their removal. The timeline that Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, agreed to last week is impossible to meet. Russia’s incentive to pressure Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to give up chemical weapons, his strategic deterrent, was more about preventing unilateral American military action than about easing Mr. Assad from power. As this 30-month war drags on, the fighters are less likely than ever to have an interest in putting down their arms to allow for a peaceful political transition of power. If the United Nations endorses the American-Russian deal, it will no doubt be blamed if and when the deal fails.

So should supporters of the United Nations system despair? Is this Iraq all over again?

No. Unlike in 2003, the United States is not using diplomacy — or the United Nations — to justify military action, but rather to avoid it. Russia, meanwhile, is trying to reclaim a seat at the global decision-making table — beyond the use of its veto power at the Security Council — and to end Washington’s tendency to enforce regime change by fiat. On both fronts, that is a positive (if modest) development for the international order.

The bad news is that the Assad regime, by escaping immediate punishment for its use of chemical weapons, lives on to fight another day. Its military resilience has already confounded many observers’ predictions, and the fracturing of the opposition, and its increasing infiltration by militant Islamists, give Mr. Assad significant negotiating power. The civil war will continue to rage on at an immense humanitarian cost, with the regime (correctly) convinced that it is fighting an existential struggle against dangerous and disorganized opponents.

The good news is that the West, having abandoned its expectations of Mr. Assad’s imminent fall, may now return to last year’s Geneva Communiqué as the basis for a political transition to a broad-based, representative government. With a military stalemate prevailing, a peace process — as carefully structured and forcefully negotiated as the one designed by Richard C. Holbrooke to end the war in Bosnia in 1995 — is sorely needed. Led by the United States, Russia and the United Nations, the negotiations must also include both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Such a process could keep Syria from splintering and put it in the hands of a broadly acceptable government.

Not only must a real and lasting price be exacted for the regime’s use of chemical weapons, but the disarmament agreement must also be the catalyst for a political transition toward a legitimate government in Damascus before Syria as a state is destroyed.

The prospects are daunting, and the dangers are plenty. Russia may decide to run out the clock on what will be a tortured inspections and political process, and argue (with some justification) that the opposition is increasingly unmanageable and unacceptable as a negotiating partner. But if Mr. Assad feels cornered and uses chemical weapons again, the United States may feel compelled to respond with military force, even without United Nations approval.

For the West, one lasting lesson of the Syria crisis should be that the politics of national security today require a legitimacy that must be earned, in practice as well as principle. It is no longer enough to justify military intervention by pointing to a crime against humanity. In the wake of misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, American and European leaders must now also demonstrate that an intervention has a plausible chance of improving the lives of those in peril, as well as advancing the security of those going to war in the name of peace.

For Russia, China and other nations that reflexively oppose Western-led interventions, the test of legitimacy is no less acute. For if they persist in blocking United Nations action where action is justified, they will hasten the day of the organization’s irrelevance. Just as few states or peoples want the Security Council to be a rubber stamp for unilateralist American policy, so, too, will it lose credibility if it serves as a shield behind which unspeakable outrages can take place in the name of safeguarding sovereignty.

Overview

Strategic advantage in a volatile world

The Firm

Nader Mousavizadeh and David Claydon founded Macro Advisory Partners in 2013 to provide a global client base with a competitive advantage in a complex world. Driven by a belief in the value of independent, long-term strategic counsel, MAP's co-founders created a firm that delivers actionable macro strategies to decision-makers in business, finance and government.

A volatile and fragmenting global landscape requires an integrated understanding of the political and economic drivers of change. Drawing on MAP's unique network, the firm’s partners — including Mona Sutphen and John Sawers — create tailored and innovative macro solutions mapped to the specific exposures, risks and opportunities facing the firm’s clients.

MAP's London and New York-based team of partners, directors and associates is supported by a Global Advisory Board and a group of Senior Advisors drawn from leadership positions in the worlds of business, finance, politics, diplomacy and technology.

Partners
Global Advisory Board
  • Kofi Annan

    Chairman, The Kofi Annan Foundation
    Kofi Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997 to 2006), and now serves as Chairman of The Kofi Annan Foundation.
  • William Burns

    President, Carnegie Endowment
    Ambassador Burns is President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and was the 17th United States Deputy Secretary of State.
  • Mala Gaonkar

    Co-portfolio Manager, Lone Pine Capital
    Mala Gaonkar is Co-portfolio Manager at Lone Pine Capital, and a former consultant at the World Bank.
  • Vikram Mehta

    Chairman, Brookings India
    Vikram Mehta is Executive Chairman of Brookings India and former Chairman of the Shell Group of Companies in India.
  • David Miliband

    President, IRC
    David Miliband is President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, following a distinguished political career in the United Kingdom.
  • Vali Nasr

    Dean, SAIS
    Dr Vali Nasr is Dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University.

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In a world defined by volatility and uncertainty — and an abundance of information, yet scarcity of insight — we identify the strategic implications for decision-makers tasked with maximising opportunity and minimising risk. The Archipelago World is characterised by fragmenting markets, populist politics, policy unpredictability, revolutionary technology, and weaponised arenas of finance, regulation and cyber.  The implications of this environment are dramatic and lasting. To help our clients anticipate and navigate these shifts in the macro landscape, we bring together deep on-the-ground analysis with long-term strategic judgement tailored to our clients' specific interests, exposures and concerns.

For today's global investor and business leader, macro is just as disruptive a factor as technology. Our advice — delivered by the firm's partners through trusted, personal, long-term and dynamic client engagements — is drawn from the policy expertise and connectivity of our global network, supported by advanced data analytics. The firm's Global Advisory Board and a team of Senior Advisors with backgrounds in diplomacy, macro intelligence, investment strategy, academia and industry, support our partners with the judgements that enable us to provide clients with relevant, actionable and investable macro solutions.

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A culture of partnership defines our firm — among the individuals we have attracted to our endeavour, and with the clients whose long-term interests we view as our own. Our team brings to our work a diverse range of global business, finance and government experiences that enable us not only to interpret a changing macro environment for our clients, but also to design specific solutions that enhance their performance and prospects.

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    Middle East Market Expansion

    Facing a fragmenting market and changing regulation, a global financial services company uses MAP's advice to enhance its performance and footprint in the Middle East.
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    Managing a Complex Portfolio in a Volatile World

    MAP provides ongoing and ad-hoc advisory services to a significant investor client, which manages a complex portfolio of equity, credit, interest rate, commodity and foreign exchange exposures.
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    China Market Strategy

    A global consumer goods company achieves success in China with support from MAP's distinctive macro insights.

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