The Western intervention in Syria seems to be following the form of those in Iraq and Libya, both of which were subjected to UN-backed investigation regimes for some time, followed by Western- led military attacks and the toppling of their respective dictatorships.
The agreement to disarm and make nice with the West did not get former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi very far, getting killed amid a Western-led attack on his country in 2011. Saddam Hussein was able to last longer, defying the UN sanctions every step of the way, but eventually they weakened the country’s economy and military, easing the way for such an attack.
However, it would be unlikely that the West would launch an attack against a nuclear armed North Korea, China, or Pakistan. And we can add Iran to that group if they gain a nuclear capability.
It seems to make more sense for Syrian President Bashar Assad to try to hang on until either Iran goes nuclear and it falls under the protection of its ally, or to cling onto some chemical weapons that it can use if the rebels are closing in around him.
Sanctions on Iraq, imposed in 1990 after the country invaded Kuwait, lasted until 2003 after Saddam Hussein was toppled from power.
Inspectors came and went while the sanctions helped degrade the country’s military capabilities.
Libya, which had been under sanctions for years because of its involvement in terrorism and its nuclear weapons program, agreed to disarm and in 2004, the US removed materials and documents related to the country’s nuclear and missile programs.
During the 2011 war in Libya, led by the French and the British, and backed by the US, there was no worry about the use of weapons of mass destruction since Gaddafi had been mostly disarmed from his most powerful munitions.
Now in Syria, a similar story seems to be repeating itself, the international community, through the UN and the acquiescence of Russia and China, is imposing a new inspection and disarmament regime. Will Assad voluntarily disarm – weakening his forces and deterrence for a Western attack? The international political system tends to express itself through the UN, even when states decide to wage war against other states or nonstate actors without direct authorization.
When George W. Bush led the US to war against Iraq in 2003 after years of UN sanctions and nuclear inspections, he did so without receiving UN approval pursuant to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes military force. Russia and China, two of the veto wielding powers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, blocked any clear authorization as they are doing with Syria.
The US formed a coalition of the willing against Iraq to avoid the obstacle of UN opposition. And today, a similar coalition was underway until the attack was temporarily called off to pursue the traditional UN sanctions/ inspections regime.
Other problems with this route are that the inspections are not 100 percent accurate. Yellow cake uranium leftover from the country's nuclear program and chemical weapons were found in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi, meaning that even though there was an agreement, some weapons fell through the cracks.
Another issue is that the UN sanctions and disarmament is likely to drag on as Assad obstructs or quibbles over the terms of the agreement. Assad is no sucker.