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The thing that prompted Rod to write about Africa yesterday was the Security Council vote that rejected the proposed sanctions against Zimbabwe, which the reporters for the Times declared rather hyperbolically to be “an historic defeat for the West.”  Of course, it’s true that Russia and China have essentially taken Zimbabwe’s side in their resistance to any international attempt to regulate the internal affairs of Zimbabwe, which they understand quite well could be applied to them or their satellites in the future, but the points that their ambassadors made are worth considering.  The Russian ambassador said:

This draft is nothing but the council’s attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state.

Of course, that is exactly true.  Indeed, that’s the whole point of the exercise.  The Chinese ambassador added, “Internationally, to use or threaten to use sanctions lightly is not conducive to solving a problem.”  This is often also true.  Suppose for a moment that the arms embargo and travel ban had been enacted, and the financial assets of the ruling clique frozen in various banks around the world.  Does anyone seriously think that this would mean that the ZANU-PF goons and the military would not be able to acquire arms illicitly?  Of course not.  It probably would make it much more likely that the opponents of Mugabe would be unable to arm themselves for self-defense.  The travel ban and asset freeze would be more burdensome, but would the latter not encourage the kleptocrats to steal whatever they have not already stolen inside Zimbabwe?  Has anyone thought for a moment how such an action would worsen conditions, as hard as that may be to imagine, rather than impose pressure on Mugabe?     

Furthermore, the Security Council does not properly have the authority to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe for its government’s misrule and brutality.  This is not the purpose of the United Nations Security Council.  Under the U.N. Charter, the Security Council can impose sanctions, blockades and even authorise military action to restore “international peace and security,” according to the provisions of Chapter VII, but one of the key provisions of the Charter that no one in the West seems to care for very much (and which non-revisionist powers such as Russia and China end up defending out of self-interest) is the statement in Article 2:

Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter…

Those who want the Security Council to act against Zimbabwe’s government want it to do something that it does not actually have the authority to do under the U.N.’s own fundamental law.  The powers it possesses to pursue collective security very plainly concern international disputes that threaten the peace.  The disaster in Zimbabwe does not fall under this jurisdiction. 

Update: It’s also worth noting that there are many significant sanctions already imposed on Zimbabwe by the U.S., EU and the Commonwealth, and these have had no effect in changing the behaviour of Mugabe’s regime.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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