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Russia, China Block U.N. Resolution To Curb Syrian Violence

With the attacks on Syrian civilians seemingly getting worse by the day, the United Nations Security Council took up a resolution that would back efforts by the Arab League to bring an end to the crackdown, an effort that collapsed in failure as both Russia and China exercised their veto power:

UNITED NATIONS — A United Nations Security Council effort to end the violence in Syria collapsed in acrimony and a veto by Russia and China on Saturday, hours after the Syrian military attacked the ravaged city of Homs in what opposition leaders described as the bloodiest government assault in the nearly 11-month-old uprising.

The Security Council voted 13 to 2 in favor of a resolution backing an Arab League peace plan for Syria, but the measure was blocked by Russia and China, which opposed what they saw as a potential violation of Syria’s sovereignty.

Pressure had mounted on the Security Council to act as Syrian opposition leaders said more than 200 people were killed in the attack in Homs, and the White House accused Syria of having “murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children.”

While the casualties were impossible to confirm, and were denied by Syria, reports of the bloodshed drew widespread international condemnation, and moved the Security Council toward a vote on an Arab League peace plan, despite new objections by Russia.

President Obama condemned what he called “the Syrian government’s unspeakable assault against the people of Homs,” saying in a statement that President Bashar al-Assad “has no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community.”

The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said, “The massacre in Homs is a crime against humanity, and those responsible will have to answer for it.”

Protests broke out Saturday at Syrian embassies around the world, including in Egypt, Germany, Greece and Kuwait, and Tunisia expelled Syria’s ambassador there.

Security Council members met Saturday morning to try to resolve disagreements with Russia, Syria’s main ally, which had promised to veto any resolution that could open the way to foreign military intervention or insist on Mr. Assad’s removal.

But the resolution’s sponsors pushed the measure to a vote anyway, virtually daring Russia to exercise its veto and risk mounting international opprobrium for preventing action to stanch the escalating death toll in Syria. In the end, both Russia and China exercised vetoes.

Russia’s last-minute changes appeared to be another attempt to create equivalency between the Syrian government and the armed elements in the opposition, including by removing all the wording that detailed human rights violations by the Assad government.

Arab and Western ambassadors said they had compromised enough to meet the demands of Russia and other skeptics. The resolution that was defeated said that the Council “fully supports” the Arab League plan, which calls for Mr. Assad to cede power to his vice president and a unity government to lead Syria to democratic elections. But specific references to Mr. Assad’s ceding power and calls for a voluntary arms embargo and sanctions had been deleted from the Security Council resolution, and language barring outside military intervention was added.

Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that Moscow still had two objections to the latest revised resolution: that it did not place sufficient blame for the violence on the opposition, and that it unrealistically demanded that the government withdraw its military forces back to their barracks.

If nothing else, this vote makes it plain that international action of any kind in Syria is not going to be nearly as easy to pull of as the Libyan operation was. In that case, the U.S. was able to get Russia and China to abstain from voting rather than exercising their vetoes. That’s clearly not going to happen this time.

Of course, the other side of the equation is what should happen in Syria, or at least what the West should do. International intervention along the lines of what happened in Libya wouldn’t seem to be the answer, especially considering that the Syrians don’t seem to be using air power against civilians and rebelling military elements the way the Libyans did. Instead, they’re engaging in large scale urban warfare in the cities that have been sympathetic to the rebels. That’s likely to be far more difficult to combat from the air, and I seriously doubt that there’s any nation on Earth that would be willing to send ground troops into Syria at this point. Then there’s the unknown factor of how Syria’s terrorist allies in Lebanon might react to outside intervention in Syria. In the long run, the Assad regime is clearly doomed, the question is how long they’re going to be able to hang on and how much damage they’ll be able to do on the way down.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    Of course, the other side of the equation is what should happen in Syria, or at least what the West should do.

    I think the only appropriate action is to do nothing. The dynamics in Syria are far too complex for another America to the Rescue campaign. Let the Syrians determine their own fate.

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  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    Covert support (small arms etc) but without fngerprints. Use the Brits/French for cover.

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  3. Unintended Consequences —> those arms fall into the hands of Hezbollah and the Druze and Lebanon descends into yet another Civil War after the collapse of its Syrian masters

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  4. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Unintended Consequences —> those arms fall into the hands of Hezbollah and the Druze and Lebanon descends into yet another Civil War after the collapse of its Syrian masters

    It’s fascinating how consistently those consequences end up nullifying our efforts years later. The only reasonable conclusion is we aren’t nearly as wise as we so often pretend.

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  5. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    So you’re presuming Assad stays on top? And Hezbollah is already largely in control of Lebanon Doug! We’re not talking about cruise missiles here but the means to shoot back at an army whose loyalty is shaky because it’s largely recruited from the families of those in
    revolt.

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  6. I’m presuming that after the Assad regime collapses you’ll see the Arab Muslim majority go after the Alawite and Christian minorities in the country.

    As for Lebanon, yes Hebollah is largely in control of at least the south but that doesn’t mean a power vacuum to the east wouldn’t have consequences.

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  7. @Ben Wolf:

    Agreed. Hence my preference for non-intervention in this situation.

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  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I’m presuming that after the Assad regime collapses you’ll see the Arab Muslim majority go after the Alawite and Christian minorities in the country.

    Well this wasn’t what you said and yes if Assad’s regime fell there would likely be a power struggle. But that’s going to happen anyway if his regime falls (with or without our assistance) so the choice you’re faced with is a) a continuation of the Assad regime or b) the toppling of the Assad regime with a bit of low cost help from us which might give us a bit of subsequent credit/leverage. It’s a fairly low stakes gamble provided we don’t get delusions of grandeur.

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  9. Joe,

    Low-risk? Yes I recall similar things being said in 2002-03. In any case, since I don’t see vital American national interests implicated in this case I don’t see any justification for intervention.

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  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As for Lebanon, yes Hebollah is largely in control of at least the south but that doesn’t mean a power vacuum to the east wouldn’t have consequences.

    Doug, you need to get up to speed. They dominate the govt of Lebanon. There are pockets of other religious groupings like the druze and maronites who are represented in the govt but Hezbollah is to a large extent calling the shots and it’s Hezbollah that is the client of Assad.

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  11. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Yes I recall similar things being said in 2002-03.

    This is a reductio ad absurdum….since when is a full scale invasion of Syria being proposed?

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  12. Joe,

    I’m just saying that your confidence in this “fool proof” plan sounds very familiar. That’s all

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  13. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I’m just saying that your confidence in this “fool proof” plan sounds very familiar. That’s all

    Doug don’t put words in my mouth. Nowhere did I say it was foolproof in fact I said it represented a bit of a gamble but one with low stakes that if it came off could redound to our benefit. The alternative is Assad stays in power or falls without our modest involvement. Gawd you’re so binary.

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  14. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Believe me there was no one more anti the Iraq/Afghan fiascoes than me but that doesn’t mean we have swing to the other polarity. It’s a question of balancing ends and means depending on circumstances (ie. pragmatism).

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  15. Joe,

    It is binary. We either intervene because our national interests are at stake, or we don’t because they aren’t.

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  16. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Having a quiet word with the Brits and French and asking them to send some low level stuff is not “intervening.” We’re using a proxy to remove someone who is generally inimical to US interests in the region. To say we have no national interests at stake here is simply not true, I’d agree they are not large which is why I don’t think we should over invest but a modest speculation to remove this guy seems not unreasonable. We could write him a check for a few million and he can move to Saudi Arabia and start an optometry business. He’d probably be happier.

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  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    BTW Doug if Assad stays in power he’ll know who his friends are. And they aint’ our friends.

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  18. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    See, Doug, this is why I said you sometimes troll your own board.

    Let’s look at the exchange: First, Joe suggested:

    Covert support (small arms etc) but without fngerprints. Use the Brits/French for cover.

    You, Doug, then warned of:

    Unintended Consequences —> those arms fall into the hands of Hezbollah and the Druze and Lebanon descends into yet another Civil War after the collapse of its Syrian masters

    Following an exchange of opinions regarding what would happen after Assad leaves/flees office, Joe said providing small arms to the Syrian insurgents would be

    a fairly low stakes gamble provided we don’t get delusions of grandeur.

    You replied:

    Low-risk? Yes I recall similar things being said in 2002-03.

    To which I reply, Are you for real? With a straight face, are you equating providing support via shipments small arms to a multi-division invasion of a sovereign nation? Honestly?

    Joe also asked that question, prompting your weak attempt at saving face:

    I’m just saying that your confidence in this “fool proof” plan sounds very familiar. That’s all.

    I’m not sure what’s more insulting about your reply: That you believe support of small arms is much like Operation Iraqi Freedom, or the quotes around fool-proof (to make us believe Joe said as much, or just because you like to roll with scare quotes).

    There’s no away around it, Doug – you aren’t arguing in good faith.

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  19. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    My comment is awaiting moderation. (Too many links, I guess, even though the links are from/to this site.)

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  20. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy:

    Too many notes Herr Mozart?

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  21. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    @Brummagem Joe: It’s a doozy – you’ll love it.

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  22. @Gold Star for Robot Boy:

    I am arguing against the very idea of intervening in Syria in any way. Joe’s idea that it could be limited to sending “small arms” strikes me as somewhat silly.

    Now, if you have a problem with what I write, take it up with me and keep it out of the comment threads

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  23. @Brummagem Joe:

    Assad’s friends were never our friends to begin with, the same goes for his father. Then again, I doubt that whatever succeeds him will be much better.

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  24. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy:

    It’s a doozy – you’ll love it.

    I can’t wait….turn it from a symphony into a sonata

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  25. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Joe’s idea that it could be limited to sending “small arms” strikes me as somewhat silly.

    Why exactly is it silly to provide these guys via a proxy some low level stuff to take on a rather shaky Syrian army. There’s notthing silly about it. It’s been a staple of arms length policy initiatives since at least the British armed the Spanish in the Peninsula war for godsake.

    Now apparently you’re apparently your censoring stuff…I can’t imagine why?

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  26. Joe,

    Because small arms don’t mean much when the Syrian Army is using tanks to mow people down in the streets of Homs and Hama

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  27. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Assad’s friends were never our friends to begin with, the same goes for his father. Then again, I doubt that whatever succeeds him will be much better.

    Doug, get the blinders off. It’s worth a couple of spins of the wheel to find out because as you yourself point out it can’t be ANY worse than the status quo.

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  28. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    when the Syrian Army is using tanks to mow people down in the streets of Homs and Hama

    Doug, I specifically included anti tank weapons in my list of small arms of did you miss that?

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  29. I’d have to go back but I just remember the phrase “small arms.” But I stand corrected.

    Nonetheless, as I’ve said before, I’m still waiting for the vital national interest of the United States that justifies intervention of any kind.

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  30. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    I just did a spin back and can’t see a specific ref to anti tank weapons but it was certainly in my mind. We don’t need anti aircraft weapons like the stingers because the Syrians can’t use airpower against urban concentrations. We need some modest way for these insurgents to put pressure on the loyalty of the Syrian army by returning fire. This regime is a house of card, one push and it’s over.

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  31. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I’m still waiting for the vital national interest of the United States that justifies intervention of any kind.

    I’ve never said we had vital national interests at stake here in fact I said they were small but here we have a regime that is generally inimical to our interests and if we use some finesse we shove them out, be on the side of the angels, and maybe do ourselves a bit of good. Syria is not Afghanistan or even Iraq. It’s quite a sophisticated country in many ways a bit like Egypt. A potential big win for a small investment.

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  32. Ben Wolf says:

    I’ve never said we had vital national interests at stake here in fact I said they were small but here we have a regime that is generally inimical to our interests and if we use some finesse we shove them out, be on the side of the angels, and maybe do ourselves a bit of good.
    @ Brummagem Joe

    Syria is not Afghanistan or even Iraq. It’s quite a sophisticated country in many ways a bit like Egypt. A potential big win for a small investment.

    This is the problem with how americans think of the world: they assume we have the right to meddle in the affairs of others whenever we choose in the name of “getting a return on an investment”. Some things, like the principles so many liberals have abandoned, go well beyond racking up a win for today with no inkling how it may play out a decade or two later. You are proposing supplying arms in a civil war, and I’m fairly certain you aren’t a Middle East scholar; yet you see the potential negative fallout as “low” despite knowing little about the situation. This is called arrogance or neo-conservatism, whichever you prefer, but there’s little wisdom in it.

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  33. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    and I’m fairly certain you aren’t a Middle East scholar

    Certainly not a scholar although I’m fairly familiar with the history of the area, did live there for awhile, and have visited many countries in the area although not Syria. How many have you visited?

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  34. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    This concludes this episode of “Doug and Joe Continue the Argument Long After the Impasse is Clear.” Tune in next time when Doug or Joe argues some point to death crowding out all other comment.

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  35. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Just nutha ig’rant cracker:

    crowding out all other comment.

    What prevented you from commenting? Carpal tunnel syndrome, ignorance of the subject under discussion (this is not normally a disqualifier as Ben Wolf demonstrates), a more interesting program on tv?

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  36. Turner says:

    Let’s get the US out of the UN and the UN out of the US. Let them go to Russia.

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  37. James Kenny says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Ben Wolf demonstrates the most sensible wisdom here

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