Originally European states, especially France pushed for sanctions on its former Levantine colony; Paris in a demarche withdrew the sanctions stick as a way to make the text more acceptable to the fifteen member Council. It did not help.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice conceded that the U.S. was “outraged” that the Council had failed to address serious human rights violations, adding that two members had vetoed a “vastly watered down text that didn’t even mention sanctions.” Surprise, surprise!
Through the political lens of Beijing and Moscow the veto against even a weak resolution was perfectly logical. Russia’s cozy and once comradely links to Syria date to the former Soviet era and have remained close to this day. For China’s communist rulers, the Syrian situation holds uncomfortable domestic political parallels for Beijing, which has held suffocating political control on the Mainland as do the Assad family rulers in Damascus.
|China and Russia both used their veto votes to block a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate halt to the crackdown in Syria against opponents of the government of President Bashar al-Assad. AFP
Though the European-sponsored draft resolution also gained the support of the needed nine votes, including the United States, four countries abstained; Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa.
The abstentions are crucial as these countries view the evolving Syrian situation as a new case of Libya, where the debatable doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” may soon be invoked. Though the resolution had absolutely nothing to hint of intervention, Russia presented a case behind closed doors that the Libyan precedent is clear. And even though Russia abstained on the March 17th resolution which led to NATO’s intervention to unseat Col. Gadhafi, for now Moscow was steadfastly supporting its old friend in Damascus.
While the European text clearly stated “Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Syria,” and the need to “resolve the current crisis in Syria peacefully, some Council members seem to not to have read the text or were convinced it was a pretext for a Libya-style intervention.
While Brazil made an honorable point saying that there should “have been more efforts to master broader support before the text had been tabled…more time could have allowed for the differences to be bridged.” Yes, but this would not have not likely changed the two vetoes.
Interestingly having used its veto, now Moscow has called on the Damascus rulers to either change their ways or step down. President Dimitri Medvedev stated, If the Syrian leadership is incapable of conducting such reforms, it will have to go.”
This very point was well addressed by Germany’s Ambassador Peter Wittig who conceded “The European sponsors of the current text had worked towards a compromise and had made substantial concessions.” Ambassador Wittig admonished, “We do not want to stand idly by while atrocities are being committed.” He added that the Syrian regime would be held accountable. “Germany would push for sanctions,” he stressed.
In fact, the European Union has already enacted a wide swath of tough economic sanctions which embargo Syrian petroleum exports.
Syria’s delegate called the UN debate “unprecedented, aggressive language” against his government.
So what is to be done in Syria? Pressing a left-wing authoritarian regime for an end to the violence and allowing human rights are well and good but fail to confront the core of Syrian power: the Assad regime, the empowered Alawite Muslim minority, and the support from the Islamic Republic of Iran, not to mention China and Russia.
The road to Damascus is strewn with good intentions but hard political realities await those trying to help the embattled Syrian people.
John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense
issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.