The U.N. Security Council cannot agree on a condemnation of the brutal Syrian crackdown that has resulted in the deaths of at least 450-500 civilian protesters. Why is this? The easiest answer to this is that there is no consensus on the Council, but why might that be? For one thing, the
self-serving humanitarian interests that mobilized most of the Arab League against Gaddafi are not present in connection with Syria, because Syria is not a pariah among Arab states, it has significant patrons, and aside from its lack of oil it is strategically significant in all the many ways that Libya is not.
Al Jazeera reports on the obstacles to passage of a Syria resolution:
Envoys attending a special open meeting on Syria in New York on Wednesday said Russia, China and Lebanon opposed the wording of a draft statement distributed by European nations.
It’s understandable that Lebanon had no problem supporting sanctions and military action against Gaddafi. Lebanese Shi’ites in particular had an old score to settle with him. Now that Syria is in the crosshairs, the Lebanese position on popular protests has changed to match up with what the March 8 coalition wants.
Another significant factor is that an initially unified response against Gaddafi regarding condemnation and sanctions soon turned into a less unified vote for military action, and then it turned into vehement disagreement among U.N. member states and Council members about whether the intervention had exceeded the resolution’s mandate. States that might already be inclined to be skeptical of condemning Syrian repression have just had a very memorable lesson in what happens when they join in the chorus of denunciation. If there was some international support for the Libyan war, and if the traditional no votes among the permanent members were willing to abstain in that case, that may have come at the price that there would be no appetite for even the most symbolic measures against other states.
Having stretched the meaning of UNSCR 1973 to make it into something that the abstaining governments no longer recognize, the intervening governments have made it harder in the future to mobilize an international response to similar crises, and they have given Russia and China ample reason never to trust the other permanent members when they are pushing through a resolution authorizing military action. Not only has the Libyan war not deterred the Syrian government from cracking down, which it was never likely to do, but it has also reinforced the traditional roles of the authoritarian permanent members of the Security Council. That is making even the most modest international response to the Syrian crackdown more difficult.