The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Syria on Oct 8 and voted on two draft resolutions on ending violence in eastern Aleppo, one sponsored by France and Spain and the other by Russia. As expected, both were vetoed by permanent members of the UNSC and the council adopted neither resolution.
The resolution proposed by France and Spain was strongly supported by the US and UK. It demanded that Russia stop bombing Aleppo and that a no-fly zone be created. The text received from the 15 council members’ 11 affirmative votes, two abstentions and two negative votes. One negative vote was from permanent member Russia, which meant the resolution cannot be adopted. It was already the fifth time for Russia to exercise its veto power on the question of Syria.
On the other hand, the Russian resolution did not mention no-fly zone at all but called for an Aleppo ceasefire, withdrawal of combatants as well as rapid and unimpeded entry of humanitarian assistance. With four affirmative votes, nine negative votes and two abstentions, this resolution was also not adopted. And three permanent members of the council (France, UK and US) casted negative votes. The US-Russia ‘fight’ over Syria on the stage of UNSC now reached a new ‘high’ and was exposed to the whole world to the fullest extent.
The civil war in Syria has lasted for more than five years and witnessed the wax and wane of American and Russian interventions and a vicious cycle of confrontation, negotiation, confrontation, relaxation and confrontation again. In the early stage of the civil war, the Syrian government forces were losing on all fronts and the Bashar al-Assad regime seemed in imminent danger of collapse. Many western countries, US included, quickly announced that al-Assad had lost his legitimacy and urged him to step down, thus drawing a strategic bottom line.
However, unlike the Muammar Gaddafi regime, which was crushed in a few months, the al-Assad regime has Iran and Russian as its regional and global strategic allies and is rather resilient. Battlefield changes on the ground have been increasingly in favor of the government forces since the Russian military forcefully intervened in September last year. In particular, the recovery of strategically located Aleppo will greatly boost the already high morale of government forces. It will also cut off the opposition forces’ only channel of logistical and arms supply and even lay down a foundation for ultimate victory for government forces. No wonder that both US and Russia resorted to veto power on draft Security Council resolutions on whether to establish a no-fly zone over Aleppo.
This fight has not only expanded mistrust between the US and Russia and deepened their confrontation. It set a new negative precedent of major power non-cooperation and placed the credibility and authority of UNSC in peril. In this situation, innocent ordinary Syrians will suffer while despicable terrorist or extremist organizations will suppress laughs, which will certainly not produce a political resolution nor boost strikes against IS and other extreme terrorist organizations through international cooperation.
Now in east Aleppo, 270,000 civilians have become hostages to the opposition Syria Conquest Front of about 1, 000 men. Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, warned that if the rebel combatants do not withdraw from Aleppo and if the Syrian government and Russia do not stop air raids, thousands of people will die. The special envoy attempted to persuade the combatants to leave Aleppo with weapons and in dignity. He even expressed his readiness to accompany them in person as a security guarantee for the withdrawal. Such warnings and proposals actually pointed to the ‘consequence’ of non-cooperation between US and Russia and identified the ‘direction’ of US-Russia cooperation. In other words, the two countries should accommodate each other’s concerns, narrow their gap on the Syrian question and look for the greatest common ground on the basis of preserving ordinary Syrians’ welfare and fighting IS.
Cooperation rather than confrontation will not only be conducive to a political resolution and the effort against IS but also benefit domestic political situations in both US and Russia. Relaxing tensions in Syria, even short of final resolution, will make President Obama’s remaining months in the White House more comfortable and leave his successor a burden less formidable. President Putin also needs to exit Syria as soon as possible. By so doing, the huge economic and defense pressures on Russia will be eased, and Putin will be able to devote more energy on planning for the 2018 presidential elections and achieve more at home. In short, in the nasty fight in the Security Council, both sides have lost face in a typical lose-lose situation. They need to rebuild trust, reactivate the process of political resolution and produce a single draft resolution based on full consultation and the largest common ground among all parties.
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Liu Haiyang Research Fellow, Nanjing University
He Wenping Senior Fellow, Chahar Institute