(CNSNews.com) – A frustrated U.S. ambassador to the United Nations accused some Security Council members Tuesday evening of going “to whatever lengths are necessary to defend dictators who are on the warpath,” after Russia and China cast a rare double veto to shoot down a resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar Assad’s violent crackdown on opponents.
Non-permanent members India, Brazil, South Africa and Lebanon abstained, further weakening the attempt to present a strong, unified message to Damascus.
Tuesday’s vetoes and abstentions came despite weeks of efforts by the resolution’s European sponsors – permanent members Britain and France and non-permanent colleagues Germany and Portugal – to water down the text in a bid to get everyone onboard.
It was only the fourth time ever that Beijing and Moscow have cast a joint veto. Two of the previous occasions blocked resolutions critical of repression in Zimbabwe (2008) and Burma (2007), while the third, back in 1972, related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
U.S. ambassador Susan Rice said it was “a sad day” for the Security Council and “most especially for the people of Syria.”
She rejected the argument – leveled primarily by Russia – that the resolution could pave the way for military intervention down the road. (Russia cited the case of Libya, where it said NATO’s military operation this year exceeded the mandate of the Security Council resolution that authorized it last March. Russia and China abstained in the vote for the Libya resolution, which authorized a no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” short of foreign occupation to protect civilians under threat from Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.)
“This is not about military intervention,” Rice told the council Tuesday. “This is not about Libya. That is a cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people.”
Talking to reporters afterwards, she repeated the view that the Libya issue was a pretext.
“I think the vast majority of countries – even today on the council that were not able to vote in favor of this text – know that this was a resolution that, in substance, was unobjectionable,” she said.
“And their decisions to vote as they did may have had a lot less to do with the text than it did with some effort to maintain solidarity among a certain group of countries,” Rice continued. “So I think Libya has been beat to death, overused, and misused as an excuse for countries not to take up their responsibilities with respect to Syria.”
Western governments have been trying since late April to get the Security Council to issue a strong response to the Syrian crackdown that began in mid-March. The council finally issued a “presidential statement” condemning the violence in early August, by which time the estimated death toll was around 1,600.
By the time of this week’s failed effort to pass a resolution, the number of Syrians killed in the violence exceeds 2,700, according to U.N. estimates.
Apart from the Russian and Chinese “no” vote, non-permanent council members India, Brazil, South Africa and Lebanon abstained – another disappointment for the resolution sponsors who had been working for weeks to come up with a text they would support.
Three of those countries – India, Brazil and South Africa – have been pushing for years for permanent seats on an expanded Security Council (along with Japan and Germany).
Rice told NPR last month that the way the three countries were exercising their responsibilities as non-permanent members was not heartening, given their aspirations.
“This has been an opportunity for them to demonstrate how they might act if they were to obtain permanent membership, and for us to assess our level of enthusiasm about that,” she said. “Let me just say we’ve learned a lot, and not all of it, frankly, encouraging.”
Decades of discussions on “reforming” the Security Council have been dogged by regional rivalries, competing interests, and disputes over whether the veto power now wielded by the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France alone should be extended to any newcomers.
The U.S. has historically been leery of an expanded permanent membership, although the Bush administration publicly supported Japan’s bid for a permanent seat and President Obama has endorsed a permanent seat for India “in the years ahead.”
Voting patterns at the U.N., which are tracked by the State Department in compliance with U.S. law, demonstrate that some of the hopeful candidates for permanent membership would not make life easier for the U.S. and its allies should they succeed.
In 13 important U.N. General Assembly votes in 2010, India’s stance coincided with that of the U.S. just 14 percent of the time, not much more than Syria and Cuba (10 percent each) or Iran (nine percent). South Africa’s and Brazil’s votes coincided with the U.S. position 30 and 33 percent of the time respectively.
By contrast, Japan and Germany respectively voted the same way as did the U.S. 89 and 80 percent of the time.
In the Security Council, Brazil voted against a 2010 resolution imposing sanctions on Iran. (South Africa and India were not members at the time).
And when the council voted for military intervention in Libya last March Brazil and India abstained (as did Russia, China and Germany). South Africa voted in favor.