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The UN and Syria: what next?

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Robin Lustig | 10:35 UK time, Friday, 7 October 2011

I'm going to assume, for the sake of argument, that you are deeply concerned about what's happening in Syria.

I'm also going to assume, for the sake of the same argument, that when you mull over the options for international action to put pressure on the government of President Bashar al-Assad, you would much rather that such action was sanctioned by an appropriately worded UN security council resolution.

In other words, you thought - by and large - that the NATO-led military intervention in Libya was more acceptable than the US-led invasion of Iraq.

So here's my question: now that Russia and China have cast their vetoes to block a Security Council resolution on Syria - a resolution that had been much watered down in the hope of winning their acquiescence, if not their approval - what would you do?

Your choices are these: do nothing, on the grounds that you tried and failed; try again, with a different form of wording in an attempt to win over the Russians and Chinese; or say to hell with the UN, we'll go it alone, put together as broad a coalition as we can, and do what needs to be done to bring an end to the ghastly mess that Syria is becoming.

There is little doubt that the crisis is worsening. According to the UN, the death toll since the start of the anti-government uprising in March is now close to 3,000 - and many thousands more are believed to be in jail.

There are also growing indications that at least some of the anti-government protesters are now armed - in the cities of Hama and Homs there are now daily reports of clashes between security forces and armed opponents. From here to civil war is a short and slippery slope.

Why did the Russians and Chinese cast their vetoes? China did because Russia did - and because Chinese leaders are deeply suspicious of any foreign interference in what it regards as a country's domestic affairs. (If I say Tibet, you'll understand why.)

And Russia, according to the pro-government MP Sergei Markov whom I interviewed on Wednesday, won't endorse any UN resolution that might be seen as a step along a path which leads to a Libya-style intervention.

Remember, Moscow abstained in the vote on Security Council resolution 1973, which authorised the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas in Libya, short of foreign troops on the ground.

It's been regretting that abstention ever since. What's more, now that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he expects soon to resume his former duties as President Vladimir Putin, there are already some signs that Moscow's foreign policy stance is beginning to harden, perhaps in anticipation of his return to the presidency.

The European Union and the United States have already imposed a long list of sanctions on Syria - and its powerful neighbour Turkey is talking of doing likewise.

But if President Assad was worried that he might face the full wrath of a toughly-worded Security Council resolution, he can rest easy: the threat has passed.

And those governments - in Washington, London and Paris - who worry about the threat to regional stability if Syria spirals into all-out civil war are left with a dilemma: how can they exert real pressure, and remain on the right side of international law, without the agreement of Russia and China? (By the way, South Africa, India, Brazil and Lebanon all abstained on the Syria resolution this week, so there's evidently still a lot of persuading to be done.)

Incidentally, a key factor in the Libya intervention was a request from the Arab League for a UN-approved no-fly zone. And there's no sign - at least so far - of any similar request being made regarding Syria.

In other words, stand by for many more weeks of diplomacy and arm-twisting before the UN tries again to come up with an acceptable formula for action.

Oh, and by the way, changing the subject entirely, if you enjoy radio drama, you may like to make a point of listening to Radio 4's Afternoon Play on Monday at 2.15pm. It's called "A Time to Dance" and one of the characters in it ... no, I really shouldn't spoil it for you. Let's just say you might recognise the voice.


  • Comment number 1.

    Russia and China are mainly run by organized gangs..called political parties. They have no interest in seeing things get better anywhere as it might inspire their own populations toward change. Popular uprisings are only popular when outside political interests say so. The weak West moans and groans while the bankers steal every last dollar, pound, Euro they can. Weakness shows on the international stage and what the bankers have caused will have ramifications in many places for some time to come. The greatest crime in history and it has gone unpunished. No moral higher ground in the West to point fingers at anyone.

  • Comment number 2.

    It's my earnest belief that the butchery that has happened to Libya will constrain Russia & China from granting any intervention into Syria, especially not Nato. What has happened to Libya is a far cry from what UN approved. Russia is not blind; China is not blind. And to tell you the truth, I'm not sure that Libya will be taken from Gaddafi, are you?
    Also, Assad has said that what is happening Syria is not a "spring" uprising; it is thuggery by which he means foreign interference has created this uprising; I tend to believe this because so many - so very many - Syrians continue to support Assad.
    Syria's Deputy FM Faisal Mekdad told UN Human Rights Council his nation is under attack from criminals who have killed 1,100 citizens with arms supplied by foreign countries. Mekdad's view: President Bashar Assad's regime is "the target of terrorist threats,", is being undermined by reports from Western journalists & western infiltration.
    Mekdad also (justifiably) complained conduct of some of those developed countries is not honorable in the area of human rights, but no one bats an eye e.g. bombing of hospital in Sirte.
    Syria maintains it has been subjected to a series of criminal attacks that have been "accompanied by an unprecedented media campaign of lies and allegations."
    Russia, China, Venezuela & Zimbabwe provided strong backing for Syria, saying it must be protected against more foreign interference.
    Nations including the United States & France condemned Assad's crackdown against civilians seeking change, but Assad maintains these are outside, external thugs. Tell me by what right the US, France, Nato can pass judgement on Syria when there is still Libya to answer for?

  • Comment number 3.

    The assumptions, for the sake of argument are indeed many and do little but to compound and add to spurious uses of NATO since the end of the Cold War.

    NATO was not formed to fight a threat from Afghanistan tribesmen, nor to participate (or consider to participate) in any regime change in either Libya nor Syria --with or without the UN or the Arab League ´crying holy murder´ as they are dragged in to non-NATO conflicts.

    "Incidentally, a key factor in the Libya intervention was a request from the Arab League for a UN-approved no-fly zone." ??? (did I miss something -- only under pressure I recall)

    America, France and Britain have enough experience fighting wars without international recognition or justification or NATO -- it is however false to assume that past history does or should give them the right to choose which wars the citizens of NATO should fight in and pay for.

    --- America, France and Britain should do THEIR wars themselves, let others choose --- but NOT in the name of NATO --nor under its flag.

  • Comment number 4.

    The UN and Syria, what next?
    Well I guess you got your answer: Next comes Iran. I was so pleased with the BBC coverage of this latest anti-Iranian propaganda coming out of Washington, which claims the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were involved in a “plot” to take out the Saudi ambassador to the US & blow up both the Saudi & Israeli embassies.
    How stupid do the American pundits think we are?
    The narrative reads like melodrama: two Iranians, one a naturalized US citizen, purportedly approached someone they thought was a member of a Mexican drug cartel – according to the indictment and proposed paying him $1.5 million to murder Adel al Jubeir, the Kingdom’s ambassador in Washington.
    This is another one of US law enforcement’s manufactured “anti-terrorist” triumphs, where the feds set somebody up, fabricate a “crime” out of thin air, and then proceed to “solve” a case that never really existed to begin with. This has been the general pattern of our “anti-terrorist” operations in the US since the beginning – because finding and catching real terrorists is much too "intelligent".
    If this figment of the imagination did not involve 'WAR" it would be laughable.
    This flimsy tale is so transparently fake that it’s an embarrassment to the United States of America.


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