A UN Crisis
The double veto by the Russians and the Chinese on an Arab League resolution on Syria at the Security Council has created a major crisis for the UN, resulting in new calls for action that promise to circumvent the stalemated organization as the international agency to protect innocent people from being slaughtered by their government.
This, as the Secretary –General stated, “undermines the world body” after the heady days when a UN resolution kicked off a successful effort to thwart the murderous threats of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In that case, the resolution was backed by the Russians and Chinese, but the ensuing result, the fall of Gadhafi scared the rulers of those two countries who began to sense that the international community might turn attention to their own dictatorial practices. The fact that Syria buys its arms from Russia and supplies China with oil might just have also figured into their calculated decision that flies in the face of not just of western governments but also the Arab League. To quote the sentiments of Secretary Clinton, this is indeed a “travesty” of the UN process.
What is now at play are calls for a new coalition of countries that will try to find alternate diplomatic, and economic means to put pressure on the Syrian Government to stop the killing. This bypassing of the UN is repudiation of the international body, but it is not without precedent. The same thing happened in the case of Kosovo over ten years ago when threat of a Soviet veto caused a coalition to be formed through NATO to give robust diplomacy a try. But when that failed, air strikes were launched which stopped the Serbian leader Milosevic in his rabid efforts at ethnic cleansing and ended up with the Serb leader being brought before an international tribunal. The same scenario will likely be necessary if the deliberate murder of thousands of Syrians is to be stopped. But we end up with the same result of a weakened UN and the need for a strengthened international capacity to stop crimes against humanity which is what gave birth to the Responsibility to Protect idea.
Ultimately, the undermining of the Security Council by the double veto gives urgency to the need for reform of the UN, in particular the revamping of the membership of the Security Council and the downgrading, if not elimination of the veto. In the past I’ve argued that the veto (which is a hangover from world War II thinking that the permanent members of the Council needed protection against the launch of an invasion across their own borders) needed to be specifically excluded in cases where the protection of civilians was at stake. Surely, the blatant resistance of two of the five permanent members must now call into question the use of the veto for such self interested purposes, and the very concept of permanent members with exalted status and powers.
The impact of this present situation cannot be left to just end with a whimper. It needs active and purposeful action to try and restore the UN and underline the necessity of the international community taking action against mass murder and serious threat to civilian lives — the very essence of the Responsibility to Protect.
Prime Minister Harper finds himself in a very strategic position to show leadership at this critical time. This week he is off to meet the Chinese leaders, to sell them Tar Sands oil and engage in trade discussions. But he can’t go there and let this egregious decision of the Chinese leadership go unmentioned. He needs to clearly let them know that Canadians have long supported the UN and were the initiators of the Responsibility to Protect, fitting with the human rights values of the country and that they are deeply opposed to the veto on action to stop the bloodshed in Syria and want to see some remedial action.
It has been touted by commentators that that our Prime Minister is not all that interested in the UN or in the world wide efforts to constrain the violent repression of citizens by their governments. But this is a government that did actively participate in the Libyan action. And therefore has demonstrated its willingness to support international action to suppress state led murder. He is therefore in a position to express the broadly felt opposition to the Chinese position and if he wants to move the yardsticks even further to engage the Chinese leadership on what they are prepared to do to stop the deterioration of the situation in Syria that will most likely lead to civil war and many more lives lost.
The prime minister this week will find himself in a unique position to lead in starting a dialogue with a major protagonist in one of today’s most pressing circumstances. Let’s hope he takes up the challenge.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.