by Nick Ottens
Western powers said they were appalled and “disgusted” by China’s and Russia’s veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have called on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down and allow an interim government to end the bloodshed in his country. According to the American ambassador Susan Rice, the two other veto wielding powers even had “blood on their hands” for not wanting to help end the violence (cf.: Rajeev Syal, “Syria’s murderous regime is doomed, says defiant William Hague“, The Guardian, 05.02.2012).
It’s not as though the rest of the world has worked particularly hard to resolve the situation in Syria over the last eleven months. Do Western countries have blood on their hands too for not pushing an intervention? Because no one really wants to back up the demand that Assad resign. Without the threat of force, a resolution is virtually meaningless.
The Security Council does not exist to legitimize American foreign policy. The United States and its Arab Sunni allies in the Middle East have a clear interest in seeing Assad go. The Sunni majority in Syria would likely come to power and end the country’s alliance with Iran which would further isolate the Islamic republic. That is why the Arab League suspended Syria as a member last year and has worked to undermine Assad since. Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states in particular fear Iranian hegemony and will do everything they can to prevent it. The Americans are on their side. It’s perfectly all right if strategic interests coincide with probably a sincere desire to see democracy and freedom in Syria but what’s not all right is to pretend that opponents of regime change are therefore condoning a massacre.
The Chinese and the Russians don’t want to give NATO another excuse to topple a Mediterranean dictator as the alliance did in Libya. Russia, moreover, isn’t so keen on seeing Assad go. It sells arms to Damascus and its only deep warm water port is located in Syria. If Assad falls and there is a strategic realignment in the region, Moscow would lose its only ally and with it, the leverage it has in the Middle East.
The Kremlin may also fear that a successful uprising in Syria would embolden separatist movements in its own outer provinces and on its frontier. In the Caucasus and Central Asia, militant Islamists continue to struggle for autonomy. If they see their kindreds overthrowing an authoritarian regime in Syria, it may encourage them to intensify their fight against Russian domination at a time when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is trying to decrease ethnic and sectarian tension in Russia.
Intervention in Syria in the name of an international “responsibility to protect“, the Chinese and Russians fear, would set a precedent for Western interference in their internal conflicts. The previous American administration was seriously considering Georgian membership of NATO. The United States are shifting their focus to East Asia to counter China’s rise. Both powers see the Americans encroach on what they consider to be their sphere of interest so it makes perfect sense for them to block an attempt to meddle in Syria. China and Russia have interests too. If you want to have a “multipolar” world, better learn how to live with it.