Analysis: Why Did Russia and China Veto UN Resolution on Syria?

February 4, 2012  

After laborious negotiations behind the scenes to achieve consensus on a UN Security Council resolution on Syria failed, the West threw up its hands and essentially put the Arab peace plan to the vote.

If the Western countries believed that an Arab initiative would escape a Chinese and Russian veto they were mistaken. Arab opinion had helped change a Chinese and Russian red light to a flashing yellow in Libya, allowing for the successful intervention that deposed the regime of Moammar Qaddafi. Part of the Russian and Chinese attitude today is based on their feeling that they were outmaneuvered in Libya and do not want to allow this to happen again in Syria, but there is far more behind their veto.

The following reasons can explain the positions taken by Moscow and Beijing in what is rapidly becoming a civil war in Syria:

Stability— Both the Russian and Chinese governments have stressed the stability factor to legitimize their authoritarian rule. While the demonstrations today in Moscow show that the stability argument is wearing thin, Putin sincerely believes that revolutions and instability have set Russia back. China crushed the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square and has cracked down on pro-democracy dissidents ever since, because they represent a threat to stability in a China that has achieved its economic objectives.

If the regime of Bashar Assad is deposed in Syria this conveys the opposite message, that demonstrations work. When the Arab Spring erupted, the Chinese press at first tried to ignore it and then moved on to explain why the Chinese situation was vastly different and it could not be replicated in China.

Muslim extremism-Both regimes fear Muslim extremism and its ability to infect the Muslim population within their countries. China and Russia both see the current regime in Syria as one that has successfully kept the Muslim genie in the bottle. They fear that the successor regime will be an Islamist one and Vladimir Putin has already upbraided the Western countries for letting loose dangerous forces, compared to which the former regimes were benign. Israel empathizes with that fear.

Multilateralism-Russia and China see the West as the force behind the democracy movements. Russia was on the losing end, at least temporarily, of democratic revolutions in the Ukraine, Georgia and Serbia that toppled pro-Russian rulers. They therefore see the revolutions as attempts by the West to act unilaterally in the global arena, bypassing and ignoring the interests of Russia and China. Moving conflict resolution to the UN Security Council, where they possess the power of the veto, means that their wishes cannot be ignored.

Noninterference“-In their bid to win friends and secure economic advantages, both Russia and China have broadcast a policy of noninterference. Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, the mullah regime in Sudan and other dictators, know that Russia and China will not press them on human rights and democracy issues. Moreover, China and Russia will have their backing in diplomatic confrontations and will be willing to employ their veto power on their behalf if necessary. This gives Russia and China the edge when it comes to arms sales and economic investments. Thanks to this logic, Russia and China are heavily invested in these dictatorial regimes and fear that they will forfeit these advantages if the rulers they have staked are overthrown.

Dr. Amiel Ungar is a political scientist and is Arutz Sheva’s Global Agenda analyst. He is featured regularly in the Hebrew press and in the Jerusalem Report, lives in Tekoa in Gush Etzion.

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