Syria: UN Motion Vetoed
WHERE DOES INDIA STAND?
By Monish Tourangbam
Research Scholar, School of International Studies (JNU)
New Delhi, July 30 : The international community is bitterly divided over Syria’s situation. For the third time, the Russia-China duo vetoed a resolution at the UN Security Council proposed by US, France, Germany and Britain to slap non-military sanctions against Syria, if President Assad did not stop using heavy weapons against civilians and withdraw troops from towns and cities. While India and 10 countries voted in the resolution’s favour, Pakistan and South Africa abstained.
Undeniably, India’s alignment with the West will again raise questions as it had when New Delhi voted in favour of the Arab League resolution early this year, there are much larger issues of global governance at stake. In fact, India’s stand should be seen in the context of this larger debate over the contentious issue of ‘humanitarian intervention’. The Syrian crisis brings forth the question of how far countries can go in bringing about change inside another country.
True, Governments around the world agree with the normative aspect of this argument, but differences erupt when it comes to the question of actually putting it into practice. Differences abound especially over the methods and degree of this response. The NATO-led intervention in Libya though mandated to rescue civilians eventually led to a regime change and subsequent killing of dictator Muammar Al Qaddafi.
The Syrian crisis too has escalated to a civil-war situation and countries continue to differ on what kinds of policy measures should be used to prevent further escalation of mass violence. Western nations continue to bitterly clash with Russia and China which enjoy significant ties with Syria’s Assad regime.
Ideally, how should the international community respond to States that become killers of their own citizens? Resulting in an armed rebellion? Thereby, giving reasons to the State machinery to respond more aggressively? What is proportionate force and when should the international community intervene in intra-State conflicts? How can a balance be found between the concern of a regime change and the morale duty to protect civilians in other countries?
Given that efforts towards building global norms of governance and of institutionalizing international rules of human rights would always run against State interests and the inevitable reality of State sovereignty, the basic framework of the international system.
Importantly, the Syrian situation brings forth these questions while India has been walking a diplomatic tightrope. The Assad regime’s relentless crackdown on protestors and the rising death toll has put pressure across the globe to take more definite positions. Notwithstanding, wide condemnation of Assad’s Government’s use of force and international pressure mounting on him to step down.
However, India has maintained a cautious diplomatic response, criticising use of violence but, at the same time maintaining its stand against ill-advised efforts of regime change in Syria. The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed there and thousands displaced since the uprising against President Assad began 16 months ago.
True, this time around, New Delhi magnanimously asserted it voted to facilitate the Security Council’s united action in support of the efforts of special envoy Kofi Annan. Said India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Hardeep Puri, “The resolution supported the extension of UNSMIS mandate and the implementation of the six-point plan and the Action Group’s Final Communiqué in their entirety. In our view, it would have been preferable for the Council members to show flexibility so that a united message could be conveyed to all sides to the Syrian crisis instead of pursuance of domestic interests.”
Significantly, to address Russian and Chinese concerns that Western nations were targeting only Assad’s regime and failed to condemn the armed Opposition’s violence, India made its displeasure known via the Damascus suicide attacks that infiltrated Assad regime’s top echelons killing some of the President’s closest aides. Followed by a counter-offensive from the Assad regime.
Notably, as both sides try to capture strategic locations, the civilians caught in the crossfire are reportedly streaming into neighbouring Lebanon. Concerns also abound that the Russian-Chinese veto would embolden the Assad regime for a no-holds barred counter-offensive against the armed rebels which would lead to collateral damage.
Against this backdrop, hardliners in Washington and European Capitals, frustrated by their repeated failures at the Security Council because of the Russia-China vetoes are now putting pressure on their Governments to take stronger, muscular action against Assad’s regime read, military intervention.
Pertinently, President Obama who is in the midst of his re-election campaign has tried to postpone taking any tough decision on the Syrian situation and denied the possibility of any overt US role towards arming the rebels. Also, he has shown no signs of wanting a Libya-style NATO intervention either.
But, as Europe and US find it harder to make moves in the face of the Russia-China veto, fears abound that the duo might try to engineer solutions outside the UN framework. Interestingly, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice made plain that Washington would not sit idle, but will “intensify our work with a diverse range of nations outside the Security Council”.
On its part, Russia and China defended their vetoes by blaming Western countries for targeting only the Assad regime under the guise of an UN effort. According to them, the draft resolution was one-sided and did not put enough pressure on Opposition groups. Following the veto, some understanding was arrived regarding the continuation of the peace monitoring mission in Syria. Whereby, the Council unanimously approved a resolution renewing the 300-strong U.N. observer force in Syria for 30 days.
Thus, leaving the door open for an extension if the Assad Government stops using heavy weapons and there is significant reduction in violence. But, doubts linger over feasibility of the peace mission amidst the violence engulfing the country. Given that the UN Peace monitors are holed in hotel rooms for most of their three-month mission.
Fears are being expressed that President Assad might use Syria’s chemical weapons stocks in his final bid to retain control. But this is denied by officials, “Any stocks will never be used against the Syrian people.” Adding a rider: If there is a foreign attack, “the Generals will decide when and how we use them.”
In sum, as violence escalates in Syria and pressure mounts on the US and European Capitals to act against Assad’s regime, India will need to tread cautiously. As New Delhi aspires to be a global power, it will be increasingly asked to take more active roles in the world’s problem areas like Syria. So far, India has fared well by using semantics to maneouver its way out, but if the West engineers a showdown with the Russia-China combine at the UN, New Delhi will need to clearly spell out that the world does not need another Iraq or Libya, where uncertainties linger and violence persists, even after regime changes. —– INFA
(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)