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West Leads in Wielding Veto Powers at Security Council

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 2011 (IPS) - When Russia and China exercised a rare double veto against a Western resolution aimed at punishing Syria, the two big powers were repeating a similar feat derailing two earlier resolutions: one against Myanmar (Burma) in 2007 and the other against Zimbabwe in 2008.

The Myanmar resolution was critical of that country’s deplorable human rights record, while the Zimbabwe resolution threatened to cut off arms sales to the beleaguered regime of President Robert Mugabe (who was being beefed up with both Chinese and Russian weapons).

Both Western-inspired resolutions were double-vetoed by Russia and China in an attempt to protect their allies – just as much as the last five U.S. vetoes (during 2004-2011) in the Security Council were meant to protect Israel.

The vetoed resolutions either condemned Israel for building settlements in occupied territories or were critical of its devastating military operations in Gaza.

But in the annals of the Security Council, Tuesday’s double veto is apparently not a political monopoly held by the Russians and the Chinese.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco who has done extensive research on voting patterns in the Security Council, told IPS, “Actually, it is the United States and its allies (UK and France) that hold the record for double (and triple) vetoes”.

There have been 23 double vetoes by the U.S. and UK and 13 triple vetoes by the U.S., UK and France, he said.

Most of them, he pointed out, were in regard to sanctions and related matters involving South Africa, Namibia or Rhodesia in the 1970s and 1980s.

The last triple veto was in 1989, in a resolution deploring the U.S. invasion of Panama. (UK and France also had two double vetoes during the 1956 Suez crisis.)

“I think it is worth pointing out that the United States holds the U.N. record in terms of vetoing resolutions threatening or imposing sanctions against governments engaged in human rights abuses as well as of resolutions simply deploring or condemning such governments,” Zunes said.

Although a majority of the Council members – nine out of 15 – voted in favour of Tuesday’s resolution (qualifying it to be adopted), the two vetoes negated the positive result.

The draft resolution, which strongly condemned the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by Syrian authorities, drew positive votes from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, France, Gabon, Germany, Nigeria, Portugal, the UK and the United States.

The countries abstaining were India, Brazil, South Africa (known collectively as IBSA) and Lebanon.

The resolution, which had been co-sponsored by France, Germany, Portugal and the UK, also called on Syria to immediately cease the use of force against civilians.

If Syria failed to do so within 30 days, the Security Council would consider “other options” (a euphemism for economic and military sanctions).

Asked about the failed resolution, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Wednesday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “regrets” that the Council failed to adopt the resolution.

But he hopes the divisions will be overcome.

“We have a moral obligation to avoid further bloodshed and help the people of Syria out of this crisis,” Ban was quoted as saying.

He also reiterated that the violence in Syria – from any quarter – cannot continue.

Since mid-March, an estimated 2,700 people have been killed in Syria, according to the United Nations.

Syria’s growing protest movement is part of a wider uprising across North Africa and the Middle East this year.

Zunes told IPS that the double-veto was definitely a reaction to the decision by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to go way beyond the U.N. Security Council mandate earlier this year to authorise force to protect Libyan civilians and to instead become an active participant in the civil war.

He said he found it interesting that four non-permanent members – Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa – abstained.

Asked whether Libya was the reason for failure of the Security Council resolution, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters, “I think this is an excuse.”

“I think the vast majority of countries, even today, on the Council that were not able to vote in favour of this text know that this was a resolution that, in substance, was unobjectionable,” she said.

And their decisions to vote as they did, she said, may have had a lot less to do with the text than it did with some effort to maintain solidarity among a certain group of countries.

“So I think Libya has been beat to death, overused, and misused as an excuse for countries not to take up their responsibilities with respect to Syria,” Rice said.

Asked whether diplomacy had reached a dead-end on Syria, she refuted the argument by pointing out that the majority of members would have supported a sanctions resolution.

And the countries in the region are, every day, coalescing and raising their voices against what is transpiring in Syria, she added.

“This is not, as some would like to pretend, a Western issue. We had countries all over the world supporting this resolution today, and we have countries throughout the region who’ve been very clear that the brutality of the (Bashar) al-Assad regime has to end and that the behaviour of the regime is absolutely intolerable.”

The two dissenting countries – Russia and China – took a strong stand on their vetoes.

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia said his country did not support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but the draft resolution would not promote a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The majority of Syrians, he said, wanted gradual political change, rather than quick regime change, and the text of the resolution did not adequately take into account the behaviour of extremist groups in opposition to Syrian authorities.

Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong said the draft resolution was overly focused on exerting pressure on Syria, and included the threat of sanctions, which would not resolve the situation.

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