Russia and China play into hands of Western powers on Syria

August 05, 2012, Sunday/ 12:18:00/ SİNEM CENGİZ

Russia and China, two faithful allies of the Syrian regime as well as two of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), in systematically vetoing any resolution which might pave the way for the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, are playing into the hands of Western powers who are unwilling to take any action in war-torn Syria, argue experts.

“It is not only Russia and China but also the Western powers who have allowed the Syrian crisis to come to this point. The truth is, Russia and China are playing into the hands of the Western powers,” Associate Professor Mehmet Hasgüler, who teaches at the European University of Lefke, argued in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman. The revolt in Syria has dragged on for far longer than any other Arab Spring uprising partly because of Assad’s unwillingness to meet the demands of the Syrian people, but also because of the support of global powers, including Russia and China, who have steadfastly supported the Syrian regime.

“Russian and Chinese vetoes may simply serve as a temporary scapegoat,” said James Raymond Vreeland, an associate professor of international relations at the School of Foreign Service and Government Department at Georgetown University, to Sunday’s Zaman. “I don’t believe that the United States really wants to pressure Russia and China on the Syrian issue because of a lack of political will to intervene.”

Russia and China used their veto powers three times in the UNSC to shield Syria from harsher international pressure, arguing firmly against a military intervention.

Maintaining that the vetoes of Russia and China were a convenient luxury for the other three powers in the UNSC, Vreeland added that the vetoes allowed the three powers to feign interest in intervening in Syria without actually having to carry it through. “Even if the US, the UK and France exerted the full force of their diplomatic pressure, they might not be able to win the votes of Russia and China for a resolution authorizing a military intervention in Syria. But it’s really not clear to me that they really want the resolution,” said Vreeland.

On the other hand, Professor Malcolm Shaw, a practicing barrister and a senior fellow in the Lauterpacht Center for International Law at the University of Cambridge, argued in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman that it was not impossible to persuade Russia and China to agree to diplomatic and economic sanctions on the Assad regime.

“Those states would need to be convinced that Assad has little future and that the best thing for them is an alternative president who would not be anti-Russia and who would preserve the status quo [including Russian bases] in Syria as much as possible,” said Shaw.

As long as the UNSC remains divided over the Syrian crisis, the commitment of its main protagonists to maintain peace seems weak. Stopping violence in Syria requires credible commitment through consensus and stronger political will among the UNSC members as a whole.

“An intervention in Syria would be messy, to put it mildly. Even the apparent success in Libya was not obvious from the beginning, and the situation there could still go awry. But the Syrian population is much denser -- making intervention much more difficult -- by an order of magnitude at least,” said Vreeland.

In addition, Syria is bordered by several strategically important countries, which makes the situation all the more delicate.

“Russia and China are vetoing any resolution [targeting] the Syrian regime because these countries have interests in Syria. Also, they do not want the West, in particular the US, to intervene in Syria,” said Hasgüler. However, Shaw maintained that there is a potential for creative thinking in order to bypass the vetoes and bring some peace to Syria and to prevent the outbreak of a wider war. “But to achieve this, certain key countries must have the will to act,” said Shaw.

UN losing credibility with Syrian crisis

Besides Russia and China, the other reason why the 16-month-long crisis in Syria has dragged on is the failure of the international community, and in particular the UN, to find a solution to the crisis. The UN is facing criticism over its effectiveness and credibility as the massacres in Syria continue.

“The UN has seriously suffered from the Syrian crisis. Syria has become another example of the UN’s double standard policy. The UN didn’t take the necessary steps in the Syrian crisis. With this crisis, the UN’s credibility was retested and it is losing its credibility with every passing day,” said Hasgüler.

It seems very obvious that an action against Assad appears impossible given the current political situation and the make up of the UNSC.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman that the Syrian crisis served as a litmus test for the UN. “With the crisis, we saw the stances of the states. We saw how they acted ethically. We saw that the UN with its current structure responded to the crisis very late. A comprehensive reform is necessary for the UN,” said Davutoğlu, adding that with the Syrian crisis, the UN’s need for reform emerged.

Agreeing with Davutoğlu, Hasgüler stated that the UNSC should expand in order to make more democratic decisions and also to prevent a deadlock. “With the expansion of this council, the UN will gain confidence,” said Hasgüler.

Although the purpose of the UN is described in the charter as to maintain international peace and security, and to that end, to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, it seems that the UN acts contrary to its founding aim with its silence over the Syrian massacre.

“It is fair to say the Syrian conflict is posing a considerable challenge to the UN. It currently shows the many failings of the organization and few of its strengths,” said Shaw.

The UN system is criticized for failing to respond effectively to many of the challenges faced by the world due to its decision-making processes, which is a victim of the paralysis of the Cold War era.

Hasgüler stated that even though one of the most important principles of the UN was not to interfere in the domestic affairs of a foreign country, the UN should interfere in Syria because a serious human rights violation was going on. “If the UN cannot maintain peace, then what is the importance of this organization?” he argued.

Ultimately, the credibility of the UNSC and the UN as a body designed to resolve disputes between nations hangs in the balance. Due to ineffective compulsory action from the UN, Assad and his regime continue to massacre innocent people.

Davutoğlu argued that if the UN had adopted a clear stance, Assad would not have been able to continue carrying out its massacre. “I have already told [UN Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon that the UN’s stance was damaging its reputation,” said Davutoğlu.

The credibility of the UN is directly related to its members’ commitment to work together through the UN framework. If this commitment is lacking, the UN cannot be expected to function as it was originally intended to.

Needless to say, the UN’s record in the Syrian crisis is disappointing. It has not been able to save humanity from the scourge of war, nor to protect people from aggression, nor to fulfill other promises in its charter.

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