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Is The Legitimacy Of Assad’s Government The Main Issue In The Case Of Syria?
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Is the Legitimacy Of Assad’s Government the Main Issue In the Case Of Syria?

UN Security Council talks once again led to pressure on Russia to pass the resolution on Syrian crisis. Basically, U.S., European countries and some countries of Arab world were trying to push Russia into condemning Syrian government for violence that is still on the go in that Middle-Eastern country. As Russia refused to do that, just as it previously did in October 2011, it seems clear that Syrian situation is far from the outcome of recent “Libyan case”.

The draft resolution that was on the table was being checked and balanced by the provisions that supposedly should have mitigated the Russian fears of its sanctioning another intervention like it happened in the situation with Libya. It seems that the whole negotiations in the Security Council are shifting from the “parties that prioritize civilian treatment vs. parties that prioritize non-intervention into domestic affairs of the states” framework into the “legitimacy debate”. In other words, debate that on one hand has argument that Assad’s government proved its illegitimacy many times and that if Assad would step down from power it will be initial step to transfer country into the democracy and on the other hand dissenting argument that the decision on legitimacy should be made inside Syria in the course of the domestic political process.

So what is legitimacy in the Syrian case? International legal scholars have long debated the notion of legitimacy in contemporary states. The notion itself has proven to be of controversial nature. As governments change relatively frequently there is a strong need and interest in the society to determine criteria that would enable someone to act and speak on the behalf of the certain states. Thus the legitimate government should be the one that is able to speak and act on behalf of given state. The issue is quite acute in contemporary so-called “Mediterranean Knot”. At the same there is no universal criteria to determine particular state’s legitimacy.

Legitimacy issues are usually divided by the relation to the source of power or to the exercise of power. As we can see, in Syrian case the legitimacy linked specifically to the exercise of power by the Assad’s government. Usually the argument in western doctrine constitutes of impossibility to proclaim the non-democratic regime legitimate due to the fact that democracy have largely become a criteria for legitimacy in the world after the end of the Cold War. That doctrine thus proclaiming some governments illegitimate in relation to the exercise of power suggested that the use of force rules in international law permit the regime change. South African apartheid regime was deemed illegitimate by the UN General Assembly due to the exercise of power through racist policy.

At the same time more “conservative” approach to the problem argues against such an understanding of the legitimacy issues and refers to the principle in international law that internal sovereign affairs of the state are “off limits”. Thus there can be no claim to the use of force specifically for the regime change. There are many non-democratic states in the world that still maintain their legitimacy, though none of the current democracy criteria can be applied to them.

Thus, we have an argument of the “Western and Arab block of states” on one side demanding that Assad’s government lost its legitimacy in Syria due to the fact that in the course of its exercise of power it committed a variety of human rights violations inconsistent with notion of the democracy. When as the Russia (carefully supported by China) in opposition argues that there is a situation of an internal armed conflict and other states should not intervene due to the fact that this is an internal affair of another state.

In fact both positions are in collision of understanding the two different sides of the same point. Legitimacy as a notion has both internal and external aspects. Internal aspect of legitimacy means the perception of the government by the people of the state; where as the external aspect implies the perception of the government by other states (represented by their respective governments). Thus the parties that in the Security Council argue the illegitimacy of Assad’s government only touch upon the external legitimacy and Russia is solely concentrated on the internal aspect of legitimacy of current Syrian authorities.

Nonetheless, adequate appraisal of the legitimacy of the government can only be processed when both of these aspects are covered. The unwillingness or inability of the parties to consider both of these aspects leads to the thought that legitimacy is not an essential issue in the Syrian crisis. Rather that is a political bargaining chip to move forward with ones interests. And having in mind that U.S. needs to push forward in the resolution of the “Syrian case” and that Russia largely fears the regime change in Syria, not the least because of its naval military presence there, it can be well predicted that Security Council is far from breaking the Syrian legal stalemate.


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