How Syria and the bloody conflict has torn the UN Security Council apart – Richard Spencer/Telegraph, UK
The UNSC is supposed to be the world’s guarantee of peace. Over Syria, everyone agrees it has been a disaster
The UN Security Council (UNSC) is supposed to be international guarantor of the new world order. Its five permanent members – America, Russia, Britain, France and China – are expected to move swiftly with the support of ten elected states to solve international crises when and where they arrive, before they become bloody.
On Syria, Iraq and the war against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), it has clearly fallen short of that laudable aim. Indeed, four of the five permanent members are themselves involved militarily in the fighting in one way or the other.
Perhaps more importantly, the five have also been at each others’ throats for four years now, with open disdain for each others’ policies.
Here, as the UNSC meets to discuss the latest developments in the crisis, including Russia’s intervention, is the battle line-up:
US v Russia
The United States in 2011 was already calling for the Assad regime to stand aside as a response to protests and the increasingly violent response by the authorities. Russia, a supporter of the regime going back to the days of Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez, vetoed any such calls at the United Nations – including sanctions. Since then, the rows have worsened.
The US has backed and trained “moderate” rebels, in concert with its Gulf allies, but seen them outweighed in the war by jihadist rebels like Jabhat al-Nusra, the local al-Qaeda branch. The emergence of Isil could have brought the two superpowers together – both regard it as an enemy. But the US believes that Isil can only be defeated as part of a larger settlement in Syria, which includes the departure of the Syrian president who, many analysts believe, actually played a role in Isil’s rise.
Russia wants to defeat Isil first, which it says means keeping Mr Assad in power. Both now are bombing Isil, but teaming up with different players on the ground.
US v China
Russia might not have felt confident enough to act alone to stop the West’s plans for Syria if it did not have the supporting veto of China. China has played little military or diplomatic role in the Syrian crisis so the Americans feel it is playing a spoiler role – stopping one solution without providing an alternative. It also feels that China is playing a longer game – allowing Russia to sabotage American plans and its worldwide credibility, in the hope that one day China will be step into a role as world leader, due to its economic clout.
China says it is merely opposed to a “unipolar” world with a “hegemonic role” for one power, which it accuses of bullying weaker nations.
Russia v Britain and France
Russia has a particular contempt for Britain at the moment, dating back to rows over the murder of the dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 and beyond. Britain, along with France, led the way in imposing sanctions over Russia’s involvement in fighting in Ukraine, and Prime Minister David Cameron has led the way in attacking Russia over its support for Mr Assad. After masterminding the air support to rebels in the war that overthrew Col Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, the two western European countries set up the “Friends of Syria” group to channel diplomatic backing and cash to the Syrian opposition.
Russia regards the intervention in Libya as a fiasco, and when it called for a summit to be held later this month for outside powers with an interest in Syria, it specifically did not invite either country.
US v Britain and France
Although in theory longstanding allies, there is considerable frustration among the three Western nations on the UNSC at each others’ behaviour over Syria. France has been most bullish of all countries about military intervention in Syria, and President Barack Obama was eventually persuaded to threaten air strikes in 2013 over the regime’s use of chemical weapons. He then felt seriously undercut by Britain’s refusal to join in, the administration regarding Mr Cameron’s failure to win a vote in the House of Commons as a disaster.
It has been reported that the lack of an invitation to Britain and France for the upcoming summit was as much Washington’s doing as Moscow’s. Britain and France, by contrast, believe that persuading their electorates of the need for action over Syria would have been easier with a strong lead from the United States, of the sort that they have come to expect over recent decades.
China v Britain and France
David Cameron offended China by meeting the Dalai Lama in 2012, and has spent the last three years trying to smooth over relations. Both Britain and France regard trade ties with emerging economic giant China as vital – France especially for its aerospace industry, which sells China Airbuses, and Britain for its financial sector’s role dealing in Chinese shares and currency.
Their willingness to give ground over human rights, Tibet and – most recently in the case of George Osborne, the Chancellor, the troubled western province of Xinjiang – suggests to the Chinese that there will be no diplomatic comeback for their support for Russia, and that if anything, it is the United States that will be increasingly isolated.