Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Libya Blowback at the UN

Lots of moaning and hand-wringing this morning about Russia and China's UN Security Council vetoes of sanctions against Syria (see NYT here; AP reports on EU reactions here), although Mr. Erdogan says that Turkey and like-minded countries will impose sanctions of their own.  But as Paul Pillar notes at The National Interest, (1) the BRICs did not support the sanctions resolution, and (2) blame for those vetoes can to some extent be laid at the feet of NATO.

The unfavorable turn in the Security Council proceedings, however, can partly be blamed on the Western governments' own missteps. The resolution did not get the backing of any of the BRICS, which besides China and Russia also include Brazil, India, and South Africa. The BRICS pointed out that the earlier Western-proposed Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya was supposedly about protecting endangered civilians but turned into a prolonged NATO intervention aimed at overthrowing the Libyan regime. The BRICS say they do not want something similar to happen with Syria. The BRICS have a point. Even if a NATO military intervention in Syria is unlikely, a similar bait-and-switch seems in the making with sanctions. The vetoed resolution hints at sanctions if the Syrian regime does not change its behavior, but Western leaders (including President Obama, after much hullaballoo on this subject in Washington) are talking about changing the regime, not just changing behavior. So the failure this week at the Security Council is partly a price Western governments are paying for two mistakes. One is a disingenuous resolution (and equally disingenuous rhetoric) about their intentions in Libya, and another is confusion about the purpose of sanctions (a topic I have addressed previously, with reference not only to Syria but to other target countries such as Iran).

It is hard enough to get the Russians and Chinese to cooperate on worthwhile multilateral actions. It is too bad when Western governments give them rationales and reasons to cooperate even less.

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