In part two of our segment Your News Explained, we present an answer to a remotely located but alarmingly handsome reader, who read this justification from the Chinese ambassador of the recent UN veto, and asks:
Here’s my question to you, hot bananas: other than their desire to ensure no one writes a UN resolution that can be used as a precedent to cause them problems with their own domestic insurrections, does the Chinese ambassador have a point about what will or will not calm tensions? Or is he 100% full of it and wrong-headedly and selfishly defending the interests of a crazed dictator intent on keeping power even if it means killing everyone who disagrees with him?
Now, the DLR has already written about the last UNSC veto on Syria by Moscow and Beijingin October. And many of the same reasons affect this one. But as luck would have it, the DLR was just at the Chinese embassy on Friday talking to a surprisingly candid political officer about this issue (well, and a few others, such as how long will it be before the Chinese ally with the giant squid in a grand union of evil).
The official Chinese position is that the UNSC resolution would not end the violence in Syria and all Beijing wants is peace. Peace and on-land breathing apparatus for its giant squid allies. But that peace should not be predicated on a goal to change the regime in Syria, and both sides to the conflict should be subjected to limits on their ability to wage violence and be encouraged to enter a dialogue.
To be fair to the Chinese/Russians, there is an argument that the Arab spring is progressing so quickly that it’s unclear whether the result will be stability or shitfight. There is also an argument that while Western nations get all hot under the collar for a spot of military intervention to encourage democratic transition, they might not be so keen on the post-conflict stabilisation mission. Militia fighting in Libya can get pretty intense at times, for instance. What’s more, regime change in Syria is a whole different kettle of fish to regime change in Libya, where a ragtag bunch of kids with Kalashnikovs and Nissans could overthrow the regime with a bit of air support. Syria still has plenty of weaponry, a decent number of personnel supporting the regime and a clear will to kill for stability. Encouraging the opposition in Syria amid the current violence could lead to a protracted and really very nasty civil war.
Still, in reality as with almost all foreign policy decisions, self-interest is more important than altruism. And frankly, Moscow and Beijing are running scared that the whole Middle East is undergoing a seismic shift to democratic, pro-Western regimes, as first Libya and now Syria succumb. Both were previously clients of Russia’s arms companies and showed ambivalence if not antipathy towards Western countries at times. Of course, Tunisia and Egypt were always Western allies, and hence arguably the Arab spring is just reshuffling alliances in the region rather than clearly moving towards a pro-Western bias. But both Russia and China have been way behind the curve in supporting the opposition movements in the Arab spring, and they realise that their position in the Middle East has therefore been greatly weakened. Hence China inviting the Syrian opposition to Beijing for a little chinwag.
So, is there a case against military intervention? Sure, there always is. But is that case the driver behind Moscow’s and Beijing’s actions? Probably not. Should there be diplomatic and political intervention, which really was what the UNSC draft was all about as it didn’t even mention military means? Certainly. But Moscow and Beijing see UNSC resolutions on Syria as possibly building towards military intervention, and UNSCR 1973, with its vague provision of using ‘all necessary means’ to protect civilians, has blown any political capital the West might have had in such resolutions.