UN Syria failure shows declining power of the West
- 15 June 2011
- From the section World
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.