While it is a little "old" news, having been announced last week, nevertheless, Saudi Arabia's decline of the UN invitation to take a Security Council seat, one of the revolving seats that are allotted to changing occupants on a short-term basis, is nevertheless worthy of note.
Citing the UN's failure to address the Syrian conflict, after two-plus years of carnage, death, dismemberment and refugee generation and dispersal, among other "failures", the Saudi's have given the UN a much merited black eye, on the world stage, while signalling that unilateral steps taken by medium-sized and medium-empowered states can make a difference.
The intransigence of both Russia and China on all proposals to intervene in Syria, all of them including a clause to remove Assad, perhaps might be taken as a signal that the removal of heads of state, by collective action of the UN, through either or both Security Council resolution or General Assembly vote, and UN military action of some sort, can never be taken as a legitimate step for the world body.
It was only after the Russian leader leapt at the suggestion that Assad give up his chemical weapons arsenal, one of the largest in the world, that movement began to address the Syrian matter, both from the perspective of the release and destruction of those weapons, and this morning, from the perspective of an actual announcement of a date for a meeting of all parties to secure a ceasefire, and potentially a peace agreement.
Of course, such an announcement has to be seen as a very preliminary step, almost like one coming from a laboratory that signals there might be some hope of a discovery that might, after decades of testing, lead to a drug that impedes the growth of cancer cells. In short, we must not hold our breath in anticipation of a peace accord.
The UN itself, is left with a damaged reputation and a weakened prospect for achieving international resolution of conflicts, when any of its members in good standing decline to participate as a sitting member of the Security Council. That is both the threat and the gift of the Saudi decision. On the one hand, the decision points to the hole in UN potential for achieving resolution to extremely tangled and multi-layered conflicts within a single state, when both the state government and multiple groups seeking both havoc and the removal of the dictator are engaged in a bloody and sustained war, sustained by the interventions of both material and personnel from outside forces, like Hezbollah and Iran. Since the whole world knows about the Iranian/Hezbollah support of Assad, why is it not feasible for the international community to cut off that outside support for Assad through police or military action by members of the UN? To many, I'm confident such a suggestion sounds simplistic in the extreme; however, Assad is not the only significant actor in the conflict, and the Iranian government's standing among the world community has been weakened by sanctions over its alleged production of nuclear energy for the purpose of generating a nuclear weapon.
The UN, if it is unable to put an end to the carnage in Syria, should certainly be able to convene an international conference to address the blight on all countries' security and safety posed by terrorist groups, some of whom are aligned with state support, (allegedly even from states like Saudi Arabia to AlQaeda in its binLaden edition). And such a conference would begin to peel away some of the layers of engagement in the Syrian conflict, even if such a conference exposed states like Saudi Arabia, and their "secret" support of terrorism.
The UN may also need a serious "make-over" in how it operates, one that includes an strengthened provision for both arrest and detention of actors who are actively engaged in the training, planning and execution of plans of terrorism around the world, as an arm of legal enforcement for the International Criminal Court in the Hague. While the court has some credits in its repertoire, leaders like Assad could conceivably be brought to the Hague, for crimes against humanity, provided the international community had resources to accomplish such a move. Perhaps too it is time to reconsider the veto allotted to all five members of the original Security Council. Has that provision outlived its usefulness, and of course, would the removal of that provision result in the withdrawal of either of both Russia and China from participation in the Security Council? Probably.
However, Saudi Arabia has signalled that the last two years of failure by the international community to begin a peace process within the extremely complicated and tangled mess that is Syria today cannot be allowed to be repeated.
And that might be the most important benefit to the Saudi rejection of the UN invitation to sit on the Security Council.