Russia and China predictably vetoed the proposed United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing sanctions against the Syrian regime, which was submitted for a vote on July 19th by the United Kingdom.
The rejected resolution would have placed Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. If it had passed, the Security Council would have been able to authorize a range of diplomatic and economic sanctions (but no military action) against the Syrian government should it continue to fail to comply with all elements of the plan and Syria’s prior commitments, including to stop using heavy weapons and to withdraw its troops from major population centers.
The final vote was 11 in favor, 2 against and 2 abstentions (Pakistan and South Africa). But the two vetoes killed the resolution. It was the third time Russia and China have used their veto power to block Security Council resolutions on Syria.
Just as predictable as the vetoes themselves was the schoolyard denunciations and finger-pointing that followed the vote.
“The first 2 vetoes by Russia and China were very destructive,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told the Security Council after the vote. “This veto is even more dangerous and deplorable.”
Rice proceeded to label as “paranoid, if not disingenuous” Russia’s claims that the resolution would have paved the way for foreign military intervention. She called on Russia and China to stop protecting Assad “before too many thousands more die.”
Rice concluded her remarks to the Security Council by saying that it had “failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year,” and she complained of yet “another dark day in Turtle Bay.”
Continuing the same refrain while answering questions from the press, Rice said that “I think history will judge those that three times have blocked Council action quite harshly.”
Needless to say, the Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin saw things very differently. He called the proposed resolution “biased” for threatening sanctions against only one side in the conflict and containing no means to prevent arms shipments to the opposition. Rice had said that the opposition would be covered, but did not elaborate how this would be accomplished.
Ambassador Churkin labeled the proposed resolution an “open path” to outside military intervention. He accused the West of “fanning the flames of confrontation” in the Security Council and standing by while the armed opposition committed terrorist acts such as the bombing in Damascus that claimed the lives of three high-level Assad loyalists. He mocked the “pious rhetoric” of those pressing for Assad’s downfall, declaring that it’s all about the West’s desire to remove Iran’s key ally in the Arab world. “A major geopolitical battle is being fought in the fields of Syria,” Churkin said.
The deadlocked Security Council was like an episode of “Back to the Future” when Cold War geopolitics regularly paralyzed the UN body. All it could do in this case, a day after the Chapter VII resolution was vetoed, was to extend for a final thirty-day period the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), which consists of some 300 unarmed UN observers in Syria. Its purpose was to monitor the situation on the ground and compliance with the stillborn Kofi Annan peace plan, but it had recently suspended its regular patrols due to the escalating violence in the country and was mainly confined to its hotel facilities. The head of the mission, General Robert Mood, has resigned. All UNSMIS can really do during the next thirty days is to arrange for an orderly withdrawal.
Whether Syrian President Assad can survive will depend on a number of factors, none of which will have much of anything to do with the UN. If rebel forces continue to penetrate his inner circle with more devastating attacks like the bombing last week in Damascus, defections will rise. If the defections hit a critical mass, Assad’s future will be in serious jeopardy.
Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East analyst at Chatham House in London, was quoted in the Guardian that the assassinations in Damascus would have a major impact. “People will be deciding whether to defect or not,” he said, “and the Russians will be wondering if they have backed the wrong horse.”
Assad may end up following his wife, who is said to have already left the country and gone to Russia. Another possibility is a divided Syria in which Assad and his Alawite supporters would control coastal territory, enabling Russia to maintain its port. But in the short run at least, all indications are that Assad intends to fight on with heavy weapons and possibly even his stockpiled chemical weapons.
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