Unity of voice is needed on Syria

Russia and China may have hoped to prop up the Al Assad regime in Syria by vetoing sanctions this week, but the results may well be just the opposite.

With the stroke of their pens this week, Russia and China snubbed international efforts to condemn the Syrian regime for a seven-month assault on peaceful protesters. The question now is whether these decisions - which refused to punish Syria's ongoing bloodshed - actually encourages more of it.

National interests in Moscow and Beijing no doubt drove the vetoing of the UN Security Council resolution. Both nations have billions of dollars worth of energy and defence deals at stake. And Russia has a military base in the coastal city of Tartus, its only year-round warm water naval presence.

But if the goal was to maintain stability through the status quo, the probable reaction on the ground will be to encourage the opposite.

Protesters now have more reason to turn to violence, concerned - rightfully so - that the world has turned its back on them in favour of entrenched business interests. "There's no way out of this except to fight," one activist from Homs told The Guardian. "For the people of Homs the international community are not with us and we know that for sure."

Anti-regime Syrians have called for foreign intervention, and talks of such action are indeed growing louder. Turkey is staging war games on the Syrian border and at least one US politician, Senator Joe Lieberman, is calling for a no-fly zone.

Yet Nato's experience in Libya is certain to dampen the international appetite for a broad military campaign. And despite strong words of condemnation from the US on the veto by China and Russia, the denouncements are unlikely to sway either government, given Washington's duplicity on similar issues, notably the Palestinian cause.

The opposition, therefore, has a major role to play in persuading Russia and China that their interests will not disappear with the Al Assads. In a hopeful sign, the Russian foreign ministry announced immediately after striking down the draft resolution that officials would meet with a delegation from the opposition this month. The opposition, now that it is largely united, is in a better position to deliver a clear and firm message.

The Al Assad regime, which called the veto "historic", will be emboldened to continue its bloody clampdown if others fail to condemn it. That is why the international community, in the name of diplomacy and stability, must speak with one voice to get its message across.

Published: October 7, 2011 04:00 AM


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