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FACTDROP: Syria shows UN is mostly useless, most of the time
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2/08/2012

Syria shows UN is mostly useless, most of the time


Πηγή: heraldscotland
By Ian Bell
Feb 8 2012

GIVEN the waves of demonstrations by democracy activists in Moscow and other sub-zero Russian cities, Vladimir Putin is probably no fan of spontaneous uprisings.

China's government, equally, is not known for encouraging popular dissent. Neither regime would relish free and fair elections.

It was not entirely a surprise, then, to see the Russians and the Chinese act as one to veto a UN Security Council resolution designed to hasten the departure of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. In non-diplomatic language, what was in it for them?

They stood to lose one of their last clients in the region. They risked allowing the West – duplicitous over Libya, they believe – to extend its influence in the region. Above all, they would be encouraging the use of the UN as a rubber stamp for regime change in democracy's name. That's not to their taste.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany and the rest, must have seen it coming. If they truly believed that a compromise resolution would secure co-operation they were naive. The structure of the Security Council is such that the Russians and the Chinese didn't need to give an inch. Any further negotiations will begin with a resolution that amounts to almost nothing.

Britain and its allies were duly disgusted and appalled by the former Communists and semi-Communists, of course. They forget to mention that the "action" sought by themselves and the Arab League amounted to no action at all. Whatever the Russians and Chinese chose to believe, regime change and intervention were both ruled out, as were sanctions and an arms embargo. All that remained was a request, little more, for Assad to hand his job to his nominal deputy.

This was intended, in the UN's usual language, to put "pressure" on the Syrian regime. No-one explained what would have followed had Assad ignored the resolution or, more likely, made a few cosmetic changes while remaining in power behind the scenes. What the resolution made clear, in fact, is that there is no appetite for participation in another Egypt, Libya, or any other phase of the Arab spring.

The West was right about one thing. President Assad, as the carnage in Homs is demonstrating, now believes he has licence to crush the Syrian rebellion. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, may have conveyed a different message in delivering a letter from Dmitry Medvedev, his nominal president, to Damascus. But don't hold your breath.

President Assad will probably be told to eradicate dissent with all speed and get on with a few "reforms". His supplies of Russian arms will not be impeded. Russia's Mediterranean base at Tartus will not be at risk. And democracy in Syria will be postponed for a while longer.

All of this is a textbook restatement of a familiar rule: the UN is mostly useless, most of the time. It may be all the world has in the way of a common purpose, but it fails more often than it succeeds. In terms of the Security Council, it is all but designed to fail. The American diplomats who are outraged over Russia's complicity with Syria have acted repeatedly, to take one example, to ensure that Israel is immune to UN "pressure".

But then, if the UN is useless, where does that leave the Arab League? "Worse than useless" would cover it. As with Libya, it has shown scant ability for united action in the affairs of the Arab world. Why would it? Several of its members are hardly shining beacons of democracy. If the dictator President Assad must go for denying his brutalised people their rights, where does that leave Saudi Arabia?

Where Syria is concerned, we are at the point where rhetoric and reality collide. Barack Obama has made it perfectly clear that the US will not actively intervene in Syria. David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, those lions of Libya, have muted their previous rhetoric. Yesterday, France withdrew its ambassador for "consultations". In Homs, the mortar shells continued to fall.

There is far more at stake than a near-empty resolution or the machinations of Russia and China. The theological grounds are obscure, but Iran is closely allied to President Assad's Syria and liable to react to any hint of intervention. If Iran acts, Israel will act. Turkey, with borders and regional interests at stake, meanwhile expresses its disgust for the Damascus regime. The mix is as volatile as it could be.

The is indignant, then, but realistic. A Libyan dissident would call it hypocrisy. Who offered all those brave words when the Arab spring began to dawn? Who seemed to suggest that downtrodden peoples taking to the streets to overthrow hated rulers was an excellent, uncomplicated idea? Someone forgot to add the exclusion clause: but not the Gulf states, not Syria.

Western rhetoric towards Syria tends also to minimise an inconvenient fact. The evidence emerging from the country seems to suggest that Assad is not universally unpopular. Desertions from his armed forces have self-evidently failed to hinder him. The population appears to be divided.

So are the Russians right? Is the West proposing to interfere in what is, in effect, a civil war, with no regard for the Syrians – a good number, it seems – who support Assad? They can't all be in the pay of the regime. And who are the people opposing the dictator? They need not be, by definition, the good guys. We know as much from the Libyan experience.

The Arab spring was never quite what it seemed. Egypt is now verging on chaos, but still under military rule: there is no democracy. In Libya, torture goes on, all but ignored in western capitals just because the people we backed are doing the torturing.

You can certainly apply to Assad the criterion that was applied to Gaddafi. Any ruler bent on murdering his own people should be stopped. There is a big difference, though, between what should be done and what can be done. Sometimes it seems as though the UN exists only to demonstrate how great the difference can be.


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