Yet again, the self-interested actions of powerful states ignore the sanctity of human life in favour of political expediency
As another vicious assault by Syria’s armed forces on protesters and rebels in the city of Homs occurred last Friday, resulting in scores or even hundreds of deaths, decisive international action to stop President Bashar al-Assad’s regime from killing his own people was effectively blocked by Russian and Chinese vetoes in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) the following day.
This move comes as no surprise to those who have followed Russian and Chinese foreign policy regarding international involvement in nations that have poor human rights records. China has been a crucial supporter of both Burma and North Korea’s appallingly repressive regimes with the former currently undergoing tentative democratic reforms. Russia has been a long-term supporter of Iran and backed Saddam Hussein up until his removal from power, gaining access to his oil resources in the process.
It is also important to mention that Russia maintains a naval base in Syria and continues to sell arms to Assad’s Ba’athist regime regardless of the alleged atrocities committed by the government – a rather repugnant motive for diplomatic inaction that cannot be ignored.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that Russia Today (RT), often regarded by some as a respectable antidote to the mainstream media, displayed naked deference to the Kremlin over the Syria veto, producing supine state stenography on the reactions of Russian politicians to western “hysteria” over Russia’s stance on the vote. Hardly surprising, but worthy of mention for those who imagine that RT’s capacity for occasionally searing and insightful reporting on other events would be borne out with consistency on issues closer to home.
Returning to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vote on Syria, the Arab League and western powers are in accord on the need to call on Assad to step down from power and cease violence against protesters and civilians. The Syrian regime is estimated by the UN to have killed over 5,400 people (a figure that is likely to be conservative) since protests against their authoritarian rule began as a part of the “Arab Spring” protest movement in early 2011. The UNSC draft called on Assad to relinquish his hold on power and for the government to remove heavy armaments from its main cities, where protests against the regime were on-going, as is the brutal suppression of popular resistance.
The attacks on Homs, described by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe as a “crime against humanity” and a “massacre”, occurred despite the despatch of official observers into Syria by the Arab League recently, one of whom was filmed appearing to admit to protesters that he saw government snipers attack civilians in a videotape broadcast by Al Jazeera. In response to the event, Tunisia, the first nation liberated by the Arab awakening that began last year, expelled the Syrian ambassador in protest at what they described as the “bloody massacre” of civilians in Homs.
The response by spokespersons for nations that opposed the veto used uncharacteristically bitter and emotional language: “the United States is disgusted” said Susan Rice, US envoy to the United Nations, adding: “Russia and China should consider themselves complicit in massacres committed by the Assad regime”. Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s permanent representative to the UN, was similarly outraged, stating that the two vetoing nations had taken a “choice to turn their backs on the Arab world and support tyranny”.
The Syrian government issued a denial of responsibility and suggested that widely-circulated footage of those killed by government forces was “propaganda” intended to influence the UN vote.
The exercise of squalid, self-serving realpolitik by China and Russia at the UN over this issue could not be more stark. In the area once described by high-level US internal policy documents as containing “the greatest material prize in history” (referring to its oil wealth), and with a war with Syrian-allied Iran brewing ominously on the horizon, blocking calls for the departure of Syria’s dictator is simply not in the strategic interests of two major military and economic powers. Western hypocrisy, as ever, is called into relief by their expressions of outrage at the behaviour of their political opposites, but for those who neither justify nor endorse the machinations of either party in world affairs, such callousness self-service remains profoundly shameful.
For those who are sceptical of the benefits of forcible intervention, following the lead of Stop The War Coalition who oppose Libya-style regime change in Syria, it is important to point out that the UNSC draft, while calling for Assad’s resignation did not call for military action or regime change. The proposal at the UN, blocked by Sino-Russian self-interest, as it was in October (since which over 2000 people have died) called for the cessation of hostilities by all sides, Assad to step down, the removal of government artillery from major cities and for a unity government to be formed.
This could have proved a decisive moment for Syria – instead it seems, that for now at least, cynicism in international politics has yet again triumphed over principle as innocent people continue to be assaulted by an army killing at the behest of a savage political elite clinging to power. The hope remains that defections from the army, as in Egypt, will be enough to slow the steady brutality of Assad’s self-abasing killing machine – that, or the still possible passage of a workable redrafted resolution at the UN that satisfies Russia and China.
Regardless of geopolitical squabbles at the UN, the urgent needs of the people of Syria require the international community to find the determination to act decisively and multilaterally to end this months old nightmare.
Image from: http://muftah.org/?p=1726
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