Syrians Should Blame Libya

Why is anyone surprised the Russia and China vetoed the resolution?

So in the wake of the failed UNSC resolution condemning the violence in Syria, the Russian foreign ministry (Russia, along with China, vetoed the resolution) issued a statement explaining why they utilized the veto:

Our wording proposals on the inadmissibility of external military intervention are not taken into account. And that, in view of the well-known events in North Africa, cannot but make us wary…
The situation in Syria cannot be considered in the Security Council in isolation from the Libyan experience. The international community is wary of the statements being heard that the implementation of the Security Council resolutions in Libya as interpreted by NATO is a model for its future actions to exercise the “responsibility to protect.” It’s not hard to imagine that tomorrow “united defenders” may begin to apply this “exemplary model” in Syria as well.

In other words, one of the reasons that the Russians vetoed the western-backed resolution was that NATO clearly overstepped its mandate in Libya (moving from a NFZ to regime change operations) and Russia would like to explicitly rule out another such measure in Syria. Interestingly, in a press conference, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland responded to questions concerning the Russian veto and refused to consider a resolution ruling out military intervention:

QUESTION: Yet the Russians are saying on their – I’m sorry. The Russian foreign ministry issued a statement saying that the draft resolution failed to rule out any military intervention, as happened in Libya, that if that line was there they would have been happy to go along with this vote. What is your comment on that?

MS. NULAND: We spent many, many weeks trying to reach consensus on a resolution. We would have liked a much stronger resolution. The United States has made clear from the beginning of this that what we are hearing from the Syrian people is that they do not want foreign military intervention, that they want to handle this themselves, that they want to handle this peacefully. We have and will continue to call on the Syrian opposition to be peaceful to the extent that is possible in making their views known across Syria about where their country needs to go and to show the world that they are capable of leading democratically, leading peacefully, and that that’s the Syria that they deserve to have.

QUESTION: So – and would it be completely out of the question if, let’s say, a draft resolution can actually spell out or rule out completely any kind of military intervention in Syria?

MS. NULAND: Said, we don’t need to go backwards here. This was a failure of the Security Council yesterday.

This is clearly a major setback for Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama and the other proponents of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine that was used to justify the Libyan adventure. If there was only a way to foresee these unintended consequences!

The international community agreed to legitimize a humanitarian intervention. Yet the Libyan adventure morphed away from its initial goal of protecting civilians to an offensive, regime change operation that may have possibly broken international laws by overstepping the limitations set by UN resolution 1973…

The blatant evolution of the intervention will inhibit future interventions. Countries that were unsupportive or unsure about intervening in Libya have seen how the NATO mission has moved away from what was agreed upon. Countries such as Germany and Turkey will be even more hesitant to agree to a NATO-led intervention and Security Council members – particularly Russia and China – will strongly resist another UN mandate out of fear that the next intervention will evolve in a similar fashion. In other words, the countries that are needed to provide the necessary international legitimacy that was enjoyed by NATO forces in Libya watched as the humanitarian justification was misused to legitimize a regime change operation.

The conditions that the White House required for intervention in Libya – specifically, international legitimization through the UN – have thus become much harder to obtain. The United States may have set a lower bar for what situations demand intervention, but this is off-set by the new requirements for international legitimacy. Russia and China are far less likely to abstain in UN resolutions authorizing international force and any number of NATO members will be more inclined to withdraw from unnecessary military ventures (out of fear of mission creep as well as financial woes.)

Thanks to the evolution of the intervention in Libya, the United States will have a tougher time finding partners for international action and will face more international skepticism surrounding any humanitarian action.

Disclaimer: I wrote that at the end of August so there was significant hindsight in that analysis. Too bad there wasn’t an earlier hint that intervening in Libya would have complications with other violent regimes!

[If] western involvement in Libya stretches into weeks or months other countries will have more of a free pass to attack protesters. With the west bogged down in Libya, no leader or public will want to commit to protecting another group of protesters in another Arab country. In other words, the west is certainly sending a message by intervening in Libya, but unfortunately, it is a message that is likely to be ignored.

Intervention in Libya is a gamble in which the US is betting against the odds. Obama  is hoping that other countries will be deterred by western intervention and allow for Egyptian-like change. Yet, Syria, Iran, Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia realize the likelihood of another American intervention in an Arab country is unlikely. Moreover, Syria and Iran know that western military actions in either country would be immensely more difficult and costly than Libya (where all important targets are conveniently on the coast) and the US allies in Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are aware that invaluable American interests would be risked and sacrificed by intervention (at least in Bahrain and Saudi). So, if a major reason for intervention is to deter other countries, what happens if the western bluff is called?

I wrote that on March 22 – five days after the UN Security Council passed resolution 1973 authorizing the NFZ and three days after the first missile was fired. Not to too my own horn (maybe a little bit) but the current UNSC struggles with China and Russia were completely predictable. Clinton and Rice (who stormed out of the UNSC meeting) seem appalled and shocked that: a) Syria is not heeding the warnings of the west and b) Russia and China still are not agreeing on a resolution.

The Libyan intervention did not act at all as a deterrent and the potentially illegal actions of NATO in Libya made any multilateral agreement on Syria far more difficult. While I am sure that Clinton and Rice are frustrated, they certainly should not be shocked.

Photo from The Heart of America

4 thoughts on “Syrians Should Blame Libya

  1. Even if they had passed the bill, it’ll take a lot more than a strongly worded letter or 2 from the UNSC to get the Syrian government to back down. In addition, I doubt the people of NATO aligned countries would tolerate another expensive military intervention in these tough economic times. And China and Russia very rarely support the Western views on these kinds of matters so I don’t see how this resolution’s failure came as a surprise to anyone.

    1. Oh I agree completely. My point was that after Libya, BRIC countries – particularly Russia (and South Africa – not BRIC, but…) – used NATO mission creep to justify voting against the resolution. If you read the comments of Clinton and Rice, they both seems shocked that even the watered down version of the resolution was vetoed. But you are right, after Libya, NATO countries would not want another intervention – though certainly some would have like sanctions or at least condemnation.

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