How to Neutralize Russia’s Shameful Vetoes Over Syria?

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At long last Secretary of State John Kerry realized that the Russians cannot be trusted on Syria. The New York Times reported on Tuesday 18th February that “John Kerry on Monday sharpened the Obama administration’s mounting criticism of Russia’s role in the escalating violence in Syria, asserting that the Kremlin was undermining the prospects of a negotiated solution by ‘contributing so many more weapons’ and political support to President Bashar al-Assad.”

Kerry’s tough criticism underscored the erosion of the Russian-American partnership in Syria, and raised questions about the viability of the United States’ diplomatic strategy to help resolve the escalating crisis.

An article by Kenneth Roth published in November 13 in The New York Review of Books stated that “Russia has used its veto to obstruct any significant effort to address the Syrian slaughter since peaceful protests begin in March 2011. Whether the issue was condemning atrocities, imposing sanctions or an arms embargo, or referring Syria to the International Criminal Court, Russia’s response was a stated or threatened nyet.”

The second round of Geneva 2 talks have ended in failure. This was predictable. The Syrian regime delegation wanted to focus on halting “terrorism,” a reference to the rebels fighting to topple Assad. The opposition delegation wanted to focus on the formation of a transitional government. On Tuesday 11th February the Opposition presented to the conference documentary evidence implicating the Syrian regime is working and co-ordinating with the al Qaeda affiliated groups operating in Syria. There is mounting evidence that the regime is in cahoots with the terrorists who are serving the regime’s interests. Only the Free Syrian Army is now fighting the Islamic terrorists.

Meanwhile the Western Powers are pushing forward with a U.N. resolution threatening sanctions against Syria despite Russia’s veto threat, with President Barack Obama sharply criticizing Moscow’s opposition to a modest measure to help thousands of starving and besieged Syrian civilians who are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Western countries made clear they had no intention of dropping the proposal despite Russia’s vow to block it.

President Obama, speaking at a joint news conference recently in Washington with French President Francois Hollande, said there is “great unanimity among most of the Security Council” in favour of the resolution and “Russia is a holdout.”

Obama said Secretary of State John Kerry and others have “delivered a very direct message” pressuring the Russians to drop their opposition.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the text is a “one-sided” effort to blame the Syrian government, which Moscow supports, for holding up aid.

It must be said that the Russians are determined to protect the regime of Bashar al Assad at any cost.

Disgraceful History Of Blocking UN Resolutions

Russia has a long and disgraceful history of blocking UN Security Council Resolutions.

  • In 1999 Russia vetoed US efforts to secure a UN Security Council Resolution authorizing military action against Yugoslavia.
  • In 2003 Russia used the same tactics to frustrate a resolution calling for military action against Iraq.
  • In January 2007 Russia and China vetoed a resolution against the Burmese military junta in Myanmar.
  • In July 2008 both Russia and China rejected sanctions against the Robert Mugabe’s odious regime in Zimbabwe.
  • In March 2011 Russia abstained on the Security Council resolution authorising the no-fly zones over Libya and protecting civilians from Gadaffi forces. It stood with the tyrant Gaddafi against the Libyan people as it is doing now with Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
  • In October 2011 they vetoed a resolution condemning Syria which would have been the first such legally binding move adopted by the Security Council since the Syrian Regime began using its military machine against protesters in mid-March 2011 in the town of Deraa.

Bypassing Russian’s Vetoes

The crucial question is how to bypass the Russian and Chinese vetoes of any resolution in the Security Council.

Precedents to bypass the Russian vetoes do exist. Over Yugoslavia in 1999 and Iraq in 2003 Washington and its allies bypassed the UN and mounted military action. The then Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the US at a Munich Security Conference in 2007 of promoting violence and instability.

Legal experts believe that by invoking the obscure UN Resolution 377, also known as the “Uniting for Peace” Resolution, it would not be necessary to seek a UN Security Council Resolution.

On 27 June 1950 USA called on the UN to use force to get North Korea out of South Korea as they had ignored the Security Council Resolution of June 25th. This was voted for but Russia could not use the Veto because it was still boycotting the UN. As a result, the United States pushed through the resolution as a means of circumventing possible Soviet vetoes. The measure states that, “in the event that the Security Council cannot maintain International Peace, a matter can be taken up by the General Assembly.” This procedure has been used 10 times so far, most notably in 1956 to help resolve the Suez Canal crisis. Britain and France, which were occupying parts of the canal at the time, vetoed Security Council resolutions calling for their withdrawal. The United States called for an emergency “Uniting for Peace” session of the General Assembly, which passed a withdrawal resolution. (A simple majority vote is required.)

There is a general but not legally universal consensus that in exceptional circumstances the International Community can act to prevent human catastrophes as happened in Kosovo and Serbia in the late 1990s. In case of paralyzed United Nations Security Council and to stop flagrant war crimes against humanity, large scale violations of human rights and ethnic cleansing, all these can provide a legitimate basis for action on the part of the International Community.

Experts believe that if the Security Council is incapable of acting due to Russian and Chinese vetoes, and where large scale atrocities are being committed as is happening now in Syria, intervention by a coalition of states would be justified.

Russia must not be allowed to call the shots on Syria.

Nehad Ismail is a writer and broadcaster, who writes about issues related to the Middle East from his home in London.