The Syrian problem is only the latest in a series of conflicts--over the last two decades-which have exposed the shifting dynamics of the Security Council's Chapter VII functions.
The burst of optimism after the Cold War as to an effective role for the Security Council in dealing with international conflicts involving high levels of violence soon dissipated. The cooperative posture of a diminished Russia was succeeded by a reassertion of the new Russia of its status as a global power. At the same time, an increasingly reassured and economically powerful China became a more important actor on the international scene with its own aspirations. If this sounds like the reemergence of a dynamic not too far from the Cold War, why should it not have a paralyzing effect on the Security Council's ability to deal with conflicts similar to the one we saw during the Cold War?
But there is more. At least five other factors have affected the Chapter VII dynamics of the Security Council. First, the increasing demand of regional organizations to play a key role, at least at the policy level, about how to address serious disturbances in or caused by a regional delinquent state. Second, the increasing need for robust military force and firepower in enforcement actions by the Security Council. Third, the inability of the organization to muster such a force from the contributions of a large number of states willing and able to contribute to and to operate under UN command and control. Fourth, the unavailability of a sufficient number of highly trained military personnel and military material in many states due to their shrinking military budgets. And fifth, beyond the traditional peacekeeping operations, the continuing indispensability of the participation of the United States in almost any serious military operation conducted under the auspices of the UN. I will discuss two of these factors.
Recent enforcement actions have required significant amounts of military firepower. The success of major enforcement operations for crises such as the uprising in Syria may require--as they did in its predecessors, the first Gulf War, Kosovo, and Libya--a strong military and a significant military arsenal. Those states that possess such now rare commodities are understandably reluctant to put them under UN command and control. In addition, with the shift in perception of international politics, national priorities, and shrinking military budgets, the number of such states has been reduced significantly. If anything, it has become clear that major enforcement actions authorized by the Security Council requiring significant use of force cannot be accomplished without the effective participation, if not the leading role, of the United States. From the first Gulf War in expelling Iraq from Kuwait, to creating a safe zone for humanitarian assistance in Somalia, and to aerial bombing in Kosovo and Libya, the United States has had to shoulder the major military burden. On a smaller scale, other states have stepped in: other NATO states in Kosovo, Australia in East Timor, and France in Cote d'Ivoire. …