If there was anyone in the world who still believed that the civil war in Syria could be resolved through a concerted, staged diplomatic process, whatever support that was left in that camp was quickly extinguished on Thursday.
For the third time since the uprising in Syria began seventeen months ago, Chinese and Russian diplomats came together to veto a British backed United Nations Security Council resolution that would have punished the regime of Bashar al-Assad if it failed to comply with Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan.
Afraid that the British proposal would have authorized the use of military force under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, China and Russia rejected the draft resolution as “biased” and unproductive.
As was predictable, the Britain, France and the United States condemned the double veto as indisputable proof that China and Russia were continuing to protect Assad from international censure. Susan Rice, the American ambassador, uttered some of the harshest words she has directed at the two Asian powers to date. It took Susan Rice a mere two sentences in her official statement after the Council meeting to highlight just how alarming the vetoes were to the entire peace process. Or, as Rice said herself, “the first two vetoes they cast were very destructive. This veto is even more dangerous and deplorable.”
However deplorable the Chinese and Russian obstruction may have been, there was little serious discussion as to whether Beijing and Moscow would change their opinion on Bashar al-Assad and his leadership. Both countries made their opposition to the draft resolution known well before the vote occurred; Russian diplomats working on the Security Council were abundantly clear that they would reject any draft that alluded too, let alone expressed, Chapter 7 sanctions on the Syrian regime. Thursday’s vote was only a confirmation of what many inside of Syria (and perhaps inside the United Nations) have long concluded: the Security Council is a dead end.
The question that now confronts Syrian activists and their Arab and Western backers is what comes next? It is a question that has befuddled the United States just as much as it has befuddled all of those who wish that Assad would imitate Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh by handing off power. The answers are many and multifaceted and none are ideal. But the one option that should no longer be on the table is another try at the United Nations, whose entire credibility on the Syrian conflict is now nonexistent. As valiant as Kofi Annan’s efforts have been to get Assad and his opponents to cease fire — an effort that is the only thing that the Security Council has been able to agree upon — his initiative has failed to meet any of its six objectives.
To Bashar al-Assad, the latest failure at the Security Council will provide him with a piece of good news after a particularly bad week that saw three of his top security advisors killed and a significant military offensive from rebels in the Free Syrian Army.
For those on the ground fighting the Assad regime, the Council’s inability to find a diplomatic solution is a confirmation that only force will pressure the government and put it on the defensive. For the United States and its allies, the event signifies the need for a different approach outside of the chambers of the United Nations.
In the meantime, it is the Syrian people who will suffer the most.