Manoeuvres at the United Nations over a resolution on Syria cannot disguise the hypocrisy on the part of the major Western countries and the opportunism on the side of Russia and China.
Always in big power struggles, the victims are ordinary people. The merciless bombardment by Assad’s forces in Homs with heavy weapons today reinforces the fact that the losers in this case are the Syrian people.
Russia’s veto of a resolution calling for a transition to free elections and for president Bashir al-Assad to step aside owed more to its military and commercial concerns than any concern for upholding the international rule of law and non-intervention.
Not much has changed in Russia’s attitude to Syria since the fall of the Soviet Union. Moscow propped up the Damascus regime of Hafez al-Assad from the 1970s, supplying it with arms and gaining a naval base at Tartus in return. In 1982, Soviet arms were used to crush a lengthy revolt centred on the city of Hama, which left up to 25,000 dead.
During the current uprising, which began a year ago inspired by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, the former Soviet Union has continued to supply weapons to the regime for use against civilians.
For Moscow, Syria is a long-term investment that has to be protected. Concerns about possible Western-led intervention in Syria were apparent. But the “right” to crush “internal opposition” was greater, as Moscow has repeatedly demonstrated in Chechnya.
Like Moscow, the United States, Britain and France have their own strategic interests. Although nominally a secular state, Bashir al-Assad’s regime is politically close to Iran through ties of religion. The Alawite minority in Syria which rules the country are Shia Muslims while 75% of the population excluded from power are Sunnis.
As part of their attempt to isolate Iran in the dispute over nuclear weapons, Washington would like to prise Syria away from its alliance with Tehran. America’s apparent support for democratic change in Syria has this objective in mind. The vetoed UN resolution came out of an Arab League mission that was largely influenced by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. These are two Sunni-led absolute monarchies with absolute no concern for democracy or the rights of the Syrian people.
The feigned outrage by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton over the Russia-China veto should be dismissed out of hand. Washington has deployed its veto at the UN some 79 times since 1970, the majority of them on Middle East issues.
In 1972, the veto blocked a resolution condemning Israel for killing hundreds of people in Syria and Lebanon in air raids. A year later, the US stopped a resolution which affirmed
the rights of the Palestinians and called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. Self-determination for the Palestinians was vetoed in 1976 while in 1979 a resolution calling for an end to all military and nuclear collaboration with apartheid South Africa was vetoed.
A bid to end the embargo of Cuba fell by the wayside in 2003 when the US used the veto in the Security Council. Calls for the end of the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2009 were thwarted by Washington. Most recently, resolutions calling for the immediate and complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities were met with a veto. Nothing much changes in Washington, whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in the White House when it comes to the rights of the Palestinians.
Relying on UN resolutions never did anyone any good. The Syrian people will have to find a way to determine their own democratic future independent of the plans and strategies of the major powers.