February 7, 2012 | Paul F.J. Aranas
originally published by the International Law Education Group (ILEG)
On February 4, the Russian Federation and China exercised vetoes to prevent the passage of a draft resolution condemning the Syrian government for the violence in Syria. Russia and China felt the text, without Moscow’s proposed amendments, would be contrary to efforts toward a peaceful solution. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin stated that the text, as it stood, “sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties,” and contained no call for the Syrian opposition to move away from extremist groups.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice exclaimed on the Council floor that her delegation was “disgusted” at the vetoes, and she complained that “wrecking amendments” had come at the last moment to delay any action. This statement by Ambassador Rice, referring to a “last moment,” is confusing to those that followed the deliberations as the Council had not reached any agreement that a vote would take place on February 4, but only that the draft text would be sent to the capitals for consultation and that the Council aimed for consensus. Ambassador Churkin noted that he had informed his Council partners that high level consideration on the text would take place on Friday, February 3, in Moscow, and that Russia would likely offer amendments shortly thereafter. The Russian delegation proposed several amendments, one of which sought to ensure that the timetable was flexible, “to take into account” the possibility of delays, for example, if political dialogue was stalled due to the tense situation on the ground. Another proposed Russian amendment called on Syrian government forces to leave the cities and towns and for armed opposition groups to do the same and to cease attempts to capture portions of cities. Ambassador Churkin called for an immediate end to the violence by all parties. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who at the time of the vote was already scheduled to lead a delegation to Damascus on February 7, expressed surprise at the Council’s decision to turn down “absolutely logical” amendments. F.M. Lavrov had also asked his Council partners to put off the vote until he and his delegation had a chance to visit Damascus, but some of his Council partners refused to wait. F.M. Lavrov labeled this refusal as “evident disrespect.”
The primary purpose of the United Nations Security Council is to reach a peaceful solution through negotiations and diplomacy. The Council should not be used as a legitimating instrument to authorize military conflict to overturn governments, even amidst crises such as that in Syria. The United States and NATO abused last year’s Libya resolution, authorizing no-fly zones, to offensively bomb the entire country with the publicly stated goal of regime change.Russia and China caste their vetoes to ensure that the unbalanced text would not result in an escalation of the violence in Syria. A resolution targeting one side in the conflict only results in ratcheting up tensions. While employing rhetoric to suggest concern for the Syrian people, Washington’s actions and hyper language suggest it is acting out of self-interest with a blatant disregard for ordinary Syrian civilians that would suffer the brunt of an increase in the violence.
Ambassador Churkin noted that some members of the international community were undermining the possibility of a peaceful settlement by advocating for a Syrian regime change. The Chinese U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong stated the principles of the U.N. Charter must be respected and that a need for political dialogue existed, in order to diffuse the situation, “rather than complicate the issue” with an unbalanced text. Washington refused sensible amendments to the draft text, and instead pursued a one-sided resolution to policy launder an agenda to overthrow the Syrian government. In light of Ambassador Rice and Secretary of State Clinton hurling undiplomatic and unhelpful language toward Russia and China for using their vetoes, it is only worth asking why, if Washington cares for the Syrian people, would it not agree to the common sense and reasonable amendments proposed by Moscow? While taking into account a pattern of previous behavior from Washington, one can only conclude that Washington’s intent is to escalate the conflict in order to create the conditions to overthrow the current government in Damascus. F.M. Lavrov described the undiplomatic rhetoric—words such as “disgusting” and “travesty”– from Western capitals, especially from Washington, as “hysterical statements” designed to conceal what is really happening in Syria. When all the facts are understood, separated from the heavy propaganda disseminated by the American mainstream media, it is evident that the Russian and Chinese vetoes were caste in the best interests of the purpose and principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter. The international community must continue to push for an immediate cessation of violence by all sides.
On February 7, F.M. Lavrov flew to Damascus and reiterated to Syrian President Bashar Assad that he must “do what it takes” to ensure peace in Syria. F.M. Lavrov reported that the Syrian President was “fully committed” to ending the bloodshed and ready for talks with all parties. He also called for solutions to the violence based on the initiatives put forward by the Arab League and stated that Damascus is ready for a large Arab mission to monitor peace efforts and will set a date for a constitutional referendum. Washington’s position on regime change in Syria is clear. However, in the interests of the Syrian population, Washington must cease its support for armed groups and work constructively, within the confines of international law, to assist in bringing the crisis to a peaceful solution. Thus far, that clearly has not been the case.
Paul F.J. Aranas is Executive Director of the International Law Education Group and author of Smokescreen: The U.S., NATO and the Illegitimate Use of Force, forthcoming from Algora Publishing in spring 2012.