The Security Council
Friday, October 7, 2011
The Background Of The Russian Veto Against The Syrian Resolution At The UNSC
By Raghida Dergham in New York
The Security Council
It is time for the United States, Europe and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to use some kind of a “soft power” approach with Russia, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Lebanon, to show their seriousness and determination in addressing the Syrian issue in its various aspects. Turkey has in effect taken such an initiative, through sanctions, maneuvers and support for the Syrian opposition, most probably in coordination with Qatar and with the support of Saudi Arabia.
The Arab League, which Russia is today using as a pretext to keep the United Nations away from involvement in Syria, is required to clarify its position and the outcome of its Syrian initiative. Specifically, the Arab League is required to convey this to Russia and China, after both countries cast a double veto this week, to preclude the Security Council from adopting a resolution demanding that the Syrian government put a stop to the repression and killing , and turn instead to dialogue, openness and reform. The resolution also gave Damascus 30 days before returning to the Security Council to look into specific measures or sanctions that could be adopted. But the alliance of “defiance”, which takes for itself the title of “Brick Wall” (BRICs) revived its unity to slap the Syrian people in the face and reduced the opposition to being mere “extremists” and “terrorists” when they elaborated on why they had voted against the resolution (Russia and China) or abstained from the vote (Brazil, India and South Africa). Those five countries are behaving as if they were confident that they are above accountability or reproach, some of them for motives of artificial superiority, like India and China, some under a shameful pretext, like Brazil, and others out of a chronic inferiority complex, like Russia. The time has come for all those concerned by the crisis in Syria, strategically, politically or morally, to carefully look into what the alliance of the BRICs wants, and how the siege on the regime in Damascus can be strengthened in effect through its neighboring countries and its two main lifelines, Turkey and Lebanon, in addition to its important relations with its other neighbor, Iraq, with the Iranian perspectives these entail.
There are important details in the negotiation process that took place over the European draft resolution. Russia had resolved early on not to allow it to see the light of day, no matter how much it is deprived of “teeth” and of any measures against Damascus, measures that would have included threats of sanctions within a specific timeframe, pointing to massive violations of human rights and international law, and the possibility of referring this to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Yet the bigger picture is perhaps more important at this juncture. And the first question should perhaps be: Why did the BRICs stand like a solid separation wall to protect the regime in Syria, while up to 3 thousand civilians have fallen victim to repression and killing?
“Enough insults and attempts to dwarf us” was the sentence that perhaps summed up the Russian mood ahead of the BRICs. One of those close to Russia’s decision-making circles said it and then added: “We will not accept to be insulted and neutralized. We will not accept for the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) to run the world in regions where we have interests and presence”.
What Russia and China have concluded is that the Syrian regime will not fall and that Bashar Al-Assad will regain control of the situation. They are thus both wagering on the survival of the regime, their old friend and Russia’s new ally with broader strategic dimensions than in the past. It is a wager that this regime will be the place where Russia can respond to NATO and its ambitions in the region.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin made this clear when he insisted that the “legitimacy” of the regime in Damascus was not in the hands of Washington, London and Paris, and that making use of the veto was not due to the text of the draft resolution per se, with a word here or there, but was rather a political decision taken on the basis of strategic calculations.
Russia is angry at Turkey, because it putting Turkish nationalism to use in order to ride the wave of what is referred to as “a faithful form of secularism”, a response to the ambitions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and its “Islamic revolution” – both Shiite and Sunni. They are both moving under the banner of Islam. The difference, for Russia, however, is that Turkey is a member of NATO which has radically contributed to regime change in Libya, and which considers today that the time has come for the regime in Syria to step down.
Indeed, Turkey’s role is pivotal in the new alliance between NATO and the GCC, which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain. Those countries view Iran as a nest of instability with expansionist ambitions, while they see in Turkey a practical leadership that has comprehended the Arab Spring and decided to stand on the side of the peoples, abandoning its close ties with both Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar Al-Assad in the process.
In practice, Russia – and China to a lesser extent – is in the same trench as the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hezbollah, thanks to its alliance with Damascus. And in practice, India, Brazil and South Africa have chosen to be in this same trench for different reasons. Yet what brings together the reasons held by those three countries, also known as IBSA, is their ambition of obtaining a permanent seat at the Security Council. Perhaps this has made them believe that it would be advantageous for them to “lead” the group of countries which are “deprived” and angry at the “colonial policies” of the West, and which are hostile to the United States.
Russia’s anger essentially stems from it not having been consulted or its opinion having been taken into account as that of a partner that has the same international standing– be it with regard to Libya, the Ivory Coast or Syria.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told several ministers he spoke with on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, that he was outraged that the European countries would take the decision to impose European sanctions against Syria without keeping him in the loop, consulting with him or even notifying him or asking for his opinion.
He complained that NATO countries were assuming that he had backed down on criticizing and sharply opposing NATO’s military operations, only after it became clear to him and to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that the air strikes had succeeded at toppling the Gaddafi regime. Russia then ceased its opposition, began to reach out to the Libyan opposition and rushed to recognize it as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. And so did China.
Lavrov sought to turn the page on this chapter and open a new one, yet he sensed a lukewarm response from the Libyan opposition and found Russia not to be welcome by the Europeans and Americans in sharing the “pie” in Libya, which involves massive interests, contracts and investments. This is why he sought to send a message to Western countries entitled “enough”, and he did this through stances on Syria, pretexting what had happened in the “Libyan scenario”, and then deliberately reduced the Syrian opposition to “extremists” and “terrorist elements”, as the Russian ambassador said. This prompted the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice to say that those Russian pretexts were nothing but a “cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people”. She also warned that the Syrian people and the Arab peoples “can now see who on this council supports their yearning for liberty and universal human rights and who does not”.
Such talk is bound to be followed by measures, because it is a rare occurrence in the diplomatic history of both two countries. What is meant here is not a war or confrontation, but rather the necessity of closely examining bilateral options and the available collective means.
The US Administration can choose to reconsider what Russia, as well as China, views as disdain and insult directed at them both, and to speak to them in a language of equality, partnership and consultation, and shared influence and interests. This would be the choice of indulging the sensitivity of Russia and China, and perhaps India as well. The other choice is that of mobilizing the members of the new alliance between NATO and the GCC, so as to speak publicly and frankly of its overwhelming discontent with the double Russian-Chinese veto at the Security Council and with the alliance of defiance, i.e. the BRICs. This would be coupled with coherent strategies in order to have the latter understand that the issue of Syria is not a fleeting one, but is rather a main pillar for the future of the region. This would mean speaking frankly in a language of interests, from contracts to investments.
There is also a third option, one that would perhaps complement the second option, embodied in confronting the strategy of defiance being led by Russia at the Security Council on the ground, and in particular through Syria’s neighboring countries. Here the United States has numerous means, which it has frankly spoken of with high-ranking Lebanese delegations led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati in New York and Minister Mohammad Safadi in Washington. In other words, this involves taking measures against Lebanese banks that have branches, a presence or profound dealings in Syria. Indeed, US officials know how to cripple Syria’s economy through its Lebanese lung, and they are confident that Russia will not shower the regime in Damascus with funds in order to save and resuscitate it, and that the Iranian economy would not be able to carry such a burden for much longer.
As for Turkey, the other lung of the Syrian economy, it has made up its mind despite the double veto, and there will soon be a qualitative shift through the Turkish-Syrian gateway.
Some countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council are working behind the scenes with Turkey, and are active in shaping the new regional order based on the alliance between the GCC and NATO. Those GCC countries also have options, as well as responsibilities. Indeed, they could choose to help Russia overcome its inferiority complex and its feelings of being excluded, by taking the initiative of including it as a partner in the discussions and in the work being done within the framework of the new alliance. Russia is disappointed that it has not been given contracts and investments in the Gulf. As for China, it does not complain, but is rather quite at ease, as it usually hides behind its enigmatic silence and abstention from voting.
If the Gulf countries decide that they want to help and contribute to meeting the desire of Russia and China to be partners in the new regional alliance, and thus global partners in world peace and security, the first step should be to speak of this frankly.
The Gulf countries must take the initiative of publicly expressing their displeasure with the double veto, in conjunction with engaging both Russia and China to have them understand the policy of the GCC frankly and realistically. And such a policy is based on putting a stop to the violence and the killing first, then engaging in dialogue for radical reform. With this comes the language of interests – with Russia by enticing it, and with China by warning it of the concomitance between interests and stances that are fateful for the region.
Indeed, the entire region is changing, and Russia and China, and with them India, Brazil and South Africa, are faced with a clear equation: Either join the new alliance which brings together Europe, the United States, Turkey and the GCC countries alongside the people’s will to change, and therefore opening up the perspectives of benefiting from it; or wagering on the regime in Damascus surviving, repressing its people, and taking risks that carry blood-spattered consequences in Syria, with strategic repercussions that will not be in the national interest of the countries of the brick wall of defiance at the end of the day.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 07/10/2011