There’s an interesting anecdote in former U.N. Under-Secretary General Marrack Goulding's account of his time at the organization. In the book Peacemonger, Goulding writes of a conversation a colleague once had with the Soviet ambassador over his country's regular wielding of its Security Council veto power. The ambassador reportedly said that he had been told: "Casting the veto is like adultery; you worry about it the first time, but after that it's fun."
One can only hope that this wasn’t the state of mind that prompted the Russian veto yesterday of a resolution condemning the violence in Syria, because it was, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted, a “travesty.”
The resolution, aimed at stemming government-led violence that has claimed an estimated 7,000 lives since last March, backed an Arab League plan to try to resolve the crisis through a “Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system…including through commencing a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition.”
It also called for the violence to cease.
To the other 13 nations on the Council, it was a no-brainer. But China and Russia apparently felt the call was unreasonable. Despite the resolution demanding an end to violence “irrespective of where it comes from,” the Russian ambassador somehow felt the text was “unbalanced.” China’s ambassador, meanwhile, said that the resolution put “undue emphasis” on pressuring Syria’s authorities.
This is patent nonsense – the first step, before any peaceful resolution can be found, is for the violence to stop. Seeing as the Syrian state is largely responsible for the violence, then yes, the emphasis will be on the Assad government.
Of course, one of the key reasons for Russian and Chinese reluctance to step up is that both countries face growing criticism and unrest at home. Neither may be ready for their own revolutions, but both undoubtedly want to keep open the option of a “robust” security response to any domestic upheaval.
In addition, some will no doubt reflexively point to the repeated U.S. failures to condemn Israel over the use of force against the Palestinians, as well as the continued settlement building. But whatever the wrongs of U.S. reticence, that’s still no excuse for yesterday’s vetoes.
So we are left with decisions that in Chinese and Russian minds allow them to avoid charges of hypocrisy, and which allow the Chinese in particular to play the non-interference card further down the road if any more "Jasmine revolutions" need to be stamped out.
Following the vote, General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser said:
“The longer the Security Council remains divided in adopting consensus position on developments in Syria, the more difficult the situation becomes, with more Syrians being killed daily.”
He’s absolutely right.