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U.N. Security Council Remains “Neutered” by Five Big Powers

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 6 2012 (IPS) - Since Russia and China vetoed a key resolution critical of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s violent repression of the ongoing 11-month old civilian uprising, there has been plenty of public outrage directed at the two permanent members of the Security Council who stood defiant against an overwhelming majority.

Syrian ambassador Bashar Ja’afari (front, right) inside the Security Council Chamber before the Feb. 4 vote. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Syrian ambassador Bashar Ja’afari (front, right) inside the Security Council Chamber before the Feb. 4 vote. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States was “disgusted” over the outcome of Saturday’s vote while Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon was “greatly disappointed” at the inability of the Security Council to speak in one voice.

A visibly angry German Ambassador Peter Wittig told reporters the two vetoes were a “disgrace”.

“A travesty,” chimed in U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while Moroccan Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki, who piloted the failed resolution, was “extremely frustrated” at the outcome.

The vote favouring the resolution was 13 out of 15, but the Security Council failed to adopt it because of the double vetoes.

In reality, both Russia and China were protecting a steadfast ally – and their political, economic and military interests in Syria – when they cast their vetoes against the resolution.

What Russia and China did is no different from what the United States has been doing with monotonous regularity – protecting the state of Israel against Security Council sanctions, strictures and outright condemnation of illegal settlements and political repression of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Perhaps Clinton may have been right when she said the Security Council has been “neutered” – but not just by Russia and China, as she argued, but also by the United States, Britain and France.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS Washington has vetoed over 42 Security Council resolutions critical of Israeli violations of international humanitarian law, including suspected war crimes, and has otherwise blocked passage of scores of others.

“Why all this sanctimonious talk about the Russian and Chinese moral failure?” he said.

Asked if the Security Council has lost its credibility because the five veto-wielding permanent members (P5) – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – continue to protect their own national interests and their allies, right or wrong, Zunes said “the shameless protection by P-5 countries of client states from international censure did not end with the Cold War.”

Just as France continues to shield Morocco from accountability for its ongoing occupation and repression in Western Sahara, and the United States shields Israel from having to live up to its obligations under international humanitarian law, Russia and China have come to protect the Syrian regime from accountability for its savage repression against its own citizens, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

According to published figures, more than 5,400 civilians and members of the security forces have been killed in Syria since the uprising began 11 months ago.

If the United States had its way, it would not only have imposed economic and military sanctions against Syria but also demanded that Assad step down.

But the resolution that was vetoed did not have either of the two provisions – both of which were deleted as a concession to China and Russia.

The milder resolution was based on a plan of action by the 22-member League of Arab States.

Still, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin believed that the resolution would undermine the continued negotiations for a settlement, including outside the Security Council chamber.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was expected to meet with Assad in Damascus later this week to help resolve the crisis.

“The Security Council is not the only diplomatic tool on the planet,” Churkin told reporters Saturday, just after the veto.

According to Lavrov, Russia vetoed the resolution primarily for two reasons: firstly, there wasn’t sufficient blame for the violence on the opposition parties, and secondly, it was unrealistic to ask the Syrian government to withdraw its military forces.

Zunes told IPS that it has only been in fairly recent years that the Security Council has even attempted to address large-scale and systematic human rights abuses within the internationally-recognised boundaries of its member states.

So, despite the Russian and Chinese veto, it is a credit to the growing influence of human rights advocates and civil society activists that the resolution even came before the Security Council in the first place.

“Even putting aside the moral failure of Russia and China to stand up for human rights, they will also find themselves on the wrong side of history, assuming Assad eventually falls,” he added.

As a result, said Zunes, though the power of the veto has prevented the Security Council from being able to consistently curb aggression and promote the peaceful settlement of conflicts, it does force governments to take a stand, forcing some to embarrass themselves before world opinion and perhaps think twice before so openly defending repression.

Rice told reporters the United States will continue, with partners around the world – partners particularly in the Arab world – to ratchet up the pressure on the Assad regime until finally the people’s voice prevails.

“We will not rest until that occurs,” she vowed.

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