Syria and lack of UN’s power
The UN General Assembly, which meets every year in September, is an ideal place to test the pulse of international politics. The Syrian civil war is still central to the discussions, with plenty of escalating rhetoric. UK Prime Minister David Cameron reached impressive heights when he blamed inaction by the UN Security Council’s (i.e. Russia and China) for the killing of Syrian children. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by asking what the hell the West is doing in Syria instead of contributing to negotiated settlement.
Meanwhile, Lahdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League peace envoy to Syria, acknowledged that thousands of foreigners are fighting on the opposition’s side. The Emir of Qatar called for Arab countries to intervene in Syria, since the Security Council is paralyzed and irresponsible. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, for his part, restated his claim that the there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict.
Can the United Nations do anything? There’s an obvious stalemate in the Syrian civil war – President Bashar al-Assad can’t suppress the rebels, and they are unable to overthrow him. A direct foreign invasion is unlikely, especially without backing from Security Council, which is being blocked by Russia and China. A diplomatic solution is possible only if there is a basic mutual understanding about the situation in Syria.
During the Cold War, the Security Council was inactive due to the mutual containment and balance of powers between East and West. The present-day crisis lacks that balance, but the results are nearly identical anyway. The West learned that bypassing the Security Council leads to ruin, as there is no other source of legitimacy for their actions. And to attain that legitimacy, they must again come to terms with Moscow. Russia nowhere near as strong as it was during the Soviet era, but this has only made her all the more intractable and stubborn. A veto in Security Council is one of few remaining weapons in the Kremlin’s arsenal, and it is prepared to use it to counterbalance the West.
At the same time, Russia perceives the general worldwide discontent with Western policies, and joins with China to exploit it. Syrian, however, is a special case: Moscow and Beijing are in the minority not only in the Security Council, but also in General Assembly. Dictators like Assad are losing ground everywhere, including the former Third World; Damascus has little support outside Iran. The West is also increasingly concerned with the changing shape of the Syrian opposition – after the recent killing of the US ambassador to Libya, many Americans are beginning to wonder just who Washington is supporting in the Middle East. If Islamist democracies replace secular dictatorships, it will be hard for Washington to spin that as a success. So, the debate in the UN continues.
Whatever we think about United Nations, it’s still an essential glimpse of the true face of the contemporary world. But the UN’s ability to enact substantive change is questionable at best. Despite the ideological and geopolitical differences between the permanent members of the Security Council, they share one thing in common – a willingness to maintain their privileged perch. But as the international political scene becomes more democratic, countries previously seen as peripheral or secondary are beginning to claim their rights. The conflict between a privileged minority and an awakening majority will deepen, and create new tensions.
Fyodor Lukyanov, for RT
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.