UN Syria failure shows declining power of the West


Attempts by the UK and France to push through a UN Security Council resolution censuring Syria have faltered and this tells us much about the new realities of diplomacy in a "multi-polar" world.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, earlier on Wednesday reiterated that his country would not allow such a vote to pass.

The UK/French draft called for UN human rights monitors to be allowed into Syria, for humanitarian access to be allowed to some of the strife-torn areas, and for countries to stop supplying weapons to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Despite the non-binding nature of the proposed wording, it soon became apparent that Russia and China - both veto powers - would block it and that other countries on the council, including India also opposed it.

You might say that the opposition came for predictable reasons - that Russia is a long term ally and weapons supplier to the Assad government and China is nervous about allowing too much international intervention in the affairs of sovereign states.

All of this is true, just as it is also the case that the diplomatic factors that made UN Security Council Resolution 1973 possible - allowing air strikes against Libya - were very unusual, relying largely on the fact that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has behaved so oddly for so many years that he is pretty much friendless.

There is, though, a deeper truth shown up by the failure of this Syrian resolution. It is a narrative of the declining power of the West and of the increasing confidence of those who dispute what are often labelled as "Western values".

In global terms the "Brics" are newly empowered - Brazil, Russia, India and China. In the context of Syrian intervention the list is different: Russia and China are still there, but Iran and Turkey are also important.

The Syrian opposition claims that Iranian advisers are active with Mr Assad's military units on the ground, helping to crush dissent. Whether or not this is true, it is certainly the case that the Iranian government has warned Western countries against interfering in Syria's internal affairs, and given diplomatic support to the government in Damascus.

As for Turkey, it has received thousands of refugees from the districts near its border with northern Syria. Turkey is also reportedly considering sending its forces inside Syria to create safe havens there.

There are plenty in the Arab world who believe the absence of a strong Western, and in particular US, lead on Syria has given latitude to Iran and Turkey to get more involved - and for Mr Assad to press ahead with repression.

If that UK/French resolution of censure could not get through, they may reason, then the chances of more sanctions, let alone military intervention must be minimal.

As for the West itself, it is divided on many issues concerning the Arab Spring and intervention.

After the parting shots by Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, predicting a "dim and dismal" future for Nato if the other members of the alliance do not do more to defend their interests, it is apparent that extending the "Libyan model" of intervention elsewhere in the troubled region would be extremely hard.

It is only fair to say that even this blueprint, which many people in Washington like because of the leading role taken by France and the UK has not yet proven itself a success - the bombing goes on.

Talking today to Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, he feels that the answer both to the issue of alliance burden sharing, and maintaining influence in the Middle East, is for European members of Nato to "step up to the plate".

He argues they have cut defence too deeply in recent years and that they need to produce more effective, deployable, forces. Implicitly, he suggests that it is up to Europe to check the decline of the West.

The chances of European countries reversing defence cuts or being politically more interventionist seem remote though.

While many chose to criticise US interventionism, particularly in the Bush era, it appears that many European countries prefer to avoid entangling themselves in foreign trouble spots unless the US is in the lead.

As these industrialised countries, struggling with budget deficits and (in some cases) public war weariness chose to sit out foreign crises more often, the world seems to be becoming a less predictable and more volatile place.

Mark Urban Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Political analyst,Thierry Meyssan, says Syria is confronting a campaign aimed at destabilization. Meyssan says media campaign is part of scheme set by US & Western powers: the aim to divert attention from existence of (paid) armed gangs. Meyssan criticizes the fabrication. He stressed that the Syrian army is not curbing protests; it is fighting armed thugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    No one outside Syria really knows what's happening. The regime has forbidden foreign journalists; prohibition has backfired. It has allowed protesters too much influence through Facebook & videos. The regime would be well advised to allow journalists into the country + humanitarian organisations, so that they can judge the situation for themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Al-Assad promised reforms & new constitution. From what I can tell there seem to be, as in Libya, as many for the leader as against him. The foreign minister vowed an unprecedented example of democracy within 3 months. There will be social justice, equality before the law & accountability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Moallem accused external officials of relying on "distorted foreign media reports". He said Syria will forget that these countries; Syria look in other directions for deep relationships.
    More than 1,300 civilians have been killed & 10,000 detained. Syrian govt has blamed the "unrest" on foreign infiltrators & paid terrorist groups.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I'm convinced Syria was intended to be another "colourful" revolution. Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed Moallem seems to support my contention. He accused external interference in Syria’s affairs.
    He demanded a stop to this interference.Statement came after EU foreign ministers met to discuss further sanctions against individuals & firms with links to President Bashar Al-Assad & his govt.


Comments 5 of 41



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