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Sunday, 12 February 2012

Double standards are the stuff of the powerful?

Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...

Diplomatic double-talk

Behind The Headlines By BUNN NAGARA

Double-dealing and double standards are the stuff of the powerful in the world at large.

THERE is something of a double bind when a troubling situation and the common understanding of it are both flawed.

For example, the uprising in Syria and the opposition to a draft UN resolution calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down have typically been misrepresented.

Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution backed by Western and Arab countries at the UN Security Council (UNSC) last weekend calling on Assad to step down. The usual recriminations about their “betrayal” of the Syrian people followed.

One allegation was that Russia and China were merely opposing the resolution for their own selfish interests. Both countries were said to have major investments in Assad’s Syria, so they would not upset Damascus.

But if regime change were to come anyway, Moscow and Beijing would be as savvy as anyone to invest in a new Syria.

According to some Western accounts, regime change would come sooner rather than later.

Then Russia and China were said to be anxious to block a Syrian uprising only because they feared a similar outcome at home.

However, governments have never had the problem of contradicting foreign and domestic policies. Besides, Syrian dissidents have no known links with Chechen or Uighur militants.

China was also said to have gone along with Russia’s objection because Beijing placed a higher priority in maintaining strong ties with Moscow than with Washington or London.

A slightly more nuanced interpretation of that argument was that Russia and China sought to counter yet another Western-led effort to use the Security Council as a rubber stamp to serve US-Israeli interests in West Asia.

Overall, Western fury at Russian and Chinese non-compliance portrayed their vetoes as abhorrent and aberrant.

In the process, other reasons were conveniently ignored.

Russia and China have reasons for vetoing the draft resolution, and these may include those cited above. But their main reason patently relates to their experience of having been caught out in similar hostile adventures before.

The Western camp has argued that the resolution did not authorise military action against the Syrian government. But given recent experience in other Muslim countries, that is neither an assurance nor a selling point for the resolution.

In December 2000, UNSC Resolution 1333 on Afghanistan was supported by Russia and the US. It was criticised by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and China and Malaysia (then a UNSC non-permanent member) abstained.

The reservations then were that the Afghan people would suffer most from the resolution, and that peace talks with the ruling Taliban would be scuppered. A year later, war came.

Several UNSC resolutions on Iraq later led to its illegal invasion and controversial occupation. China, France and Russia by then had serious reservations about such resolutions, with doubts about whether war could be authorised.

US and British diplomats assured the world that the latest Iraq resolution need not authorise war. War came nonetheless, on spurious grounds and with disastrous consequences.

By 2007, China and Russia had had enough of such Western diplomatic shenanigans. They both vetoed a resolution tabled by the US and Britain on Myanmar.

Then on to Libya in 2011: a resolution that was supposed to have authorised only a “no-fly zone” became a hostile military action to “protect civilians”, which in turn meant war – again.

It was another exercise in regime change, whatever official words were used for the effort: of a country “in breach of UN resolutions”, one’s “responsibility to protect”, or “remaining seized of the matter”.

By 2012, it would be perverse for Russia and China, or any other country outside the Western orbit of client states, to remain oblivious to the ulterior motives behind UNSC resolutions.

Days before Morocco had tabled the draft resolution on Syria, both Russia and China had already indicated their opposition to it, so there were no grounds for the sense of shock and horror that followed.

Much of Western media reporting on the issue continues to miss some salient points. By the time of last year’s Western-led attack on Libya, if not before, at least one important lesson should have become clear.

And that is how Western encouragement of local uprisings in several Muslim countries can doom dissidents relying on uncertain support from abroad.

With Libya, both sides were armed and not above using violence against civilians caught in the middle.

It also quickly became clear that the anti-government forces had no hope of winning without foreign military support. But at the same time, such support is illegal in attacking a sovereign state.

In the Western perspective, the case for providing military support was expressed as “not betraying” the people who had chosen to fight their government.

This would have the predictable effect of encouraging more militants in other countries to wage war against the state, regardless of their chances of victory and the undemocratic nature of their rebellion.

Now Syria has proven the point. Without foreign military assistance, the innocent and virtuous masses would be said to have been abandoned to mass slaughter.

And on it goes. It has the chilling and compelling effect of obliging, even blackmailing, all other countries to attack any particular country regarded as ripe for regime change.

With Syria, the government’s military strength to the opposition’s capacity to mount a physical challenge is 10 times that of Libya before. If the sponsors of the failed resolution asking Assad to go quietly still insist it does not require war to be effective, they must be lying.

Their intelligence agencies should have informed them of the odds on the ground in Syria by now. Russia and China have already called their bluff.

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