Posts Tagged ‘security council’
The UN Security Council rejected a resolution on Syria earlier this week, with 13 for votes overruled by Russian and Chinese vetoes. The blame game is now in full force: with Stephen Walt attributing the Russian and Chinese vetoes largely to Western overreach in Libya, and others claiming this has much to do with the Kremlin’s interests in Syria.
I don’t buy these somewhat deterministic and simplistic explanations. There are many reasons why Russia would cast the veto: protect one of its top arms clients and close allies in the Middle East; send a wider message of reassurance to the other rogue regimes it coddles; Putin wanting to look tough ahead of Russian elections in March; and, yes, perhaps punishing the US and its allies for overstepping the boundary in the Libyan intervention. Focusing on the last factor alone misses the point.
It’s not like the decision was so straightforward either. A strong case could be made for the Russians to water down a resolution till it was devoid of all meaning (arguably what they tried to do) rather than just killing it, since the latter option risked alienating the Arab League and places the Kremlin in a tough spot should the opposition prevail in Syria.
Furthermore, the process leading up to the vote may have been much more muddled than this clear picture suggests. The Russian position appears to have been quite malleable up till the end rather than being set in stone. If some Indian press reports are correct, the eventual decision was a surprising one that came only after a last minute meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The Economic Times notes sternly:
Officials said after the final round of negotiations it was clear that Russia and China would support it. The Russian decision to oppose the resolution came only at the last minute after the Munich meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
It is believed that the last minute Russian suggestions or conditions were neither shared during the negotiations or with any other members of the Security Council but were discussed bilaterally only with the United States. The developments surprised many diplomats.
The Chinese veto has been read as yet another predictable case of Beijing advocating ‘non-interference’ in concert with Russia. After all, the Chinese did join the Russians in vetoing a resolution on Syria last year. Even here, though, Chinese calculations were probably more complex this time. Since China gets most of its oil imports from the Middle East, it would have at least been wary about alienating Arab countries, who introduced the resolution. Beijing also does not like to use its veto (it has only done so eight times since 1971), particularly on issues where it has no great economic or strategic stake (like Syria). Besides, this resolution did not specifically advocate sanctions the way the European one in October last year did.
In any case, the implications of the Russian and Chinese vetoes cannot be understated. Not only may the two countries potentially damage their reputation in the Arab world, but the UN Security Council looks paralyzed and the situation in Syria could get even worse. That being said, depending on how things evolve on the ground, Beijing and Moscow may find themselves having to decide on whether to veto yet another UN resolution soon.