Frantic diplomatic negotiations are still underway at the UN Security Council to agree a watered-down resolution on Syria that would secure a yes vote from Russia by removing a call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down and dropping direct threats of an arms embargo or new sanctions. The Arab League's original text was too strong for Russia's liking. The weaker diluted version might still be vetoed by Russia. I argue that a weak resolution just to please Moscow would be a useless gesture. No resolution at all is preferable to a feeble meaninglessly worded resolution that Syria will ignore.
In 1999 Russia vetoed US efforts to secure a UN Security Council Resolution authorizing military action against Yugoslavia. In 2003 Russia used the same tactics to frustrate a resolution calling for military action against Iraq.
In January 2007 Russia and China vetoed a resolution against the Burmese military junta in Myanmar. In July 2008 both Russia and China rejected sanctions against the Robert Mugabe's odious regime in Zimbabwe. In October 2011 they vetoed a resolution condemning Syria which would have been the first such legally binding move adopted by the Security Council since the Syrian Regime began using its military machine against protesters in mid-March last year in the town of Deraa.
So Russia's role as an obstructionist is well known and documented. But precedents to bypass the Russian veto do exist. Over Yugoslavia in 1999 and Iraq in 2003 Washington and its allies bypassed the UN and mounted military action. The then Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the US at a Munich Security Conference in 2007 of promoting violence and instability.
In March 2011 Russia abstained on the Security Council resolution authorising the no-fly zones over Libya and protecting civilians from Gadaffi forces. Moscow said later that it did not agree to the military action and to the toppling of Gaddafi. No one believed Moscow which was exposed as a friend of the dictator. It stood with the tyrant against the people as it is doing now with Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
The Arab League's decision to refer the matter to the Security Council is an important step towards bolstering the international community's efforts to take tough measures against the brutal Syrian regime. For several months the Arab League pursued diplomacy and even regional sanctions to end the crisis. However, in face of the stubborn stand taken by Damascus and Assad's blatant refusal to stop the violence against what he calls armed criminals and terrorists sponsored by foreign elements, the situation got more complicated. Hence the Arab League's decision to pull out its observers and refer the matter to the UN. A draft resolution is now being watered down to appease Russia. While military intervention may be the least preferred option at present, wider sanctions are being planned. But the crucial question is how to bypass the Russian and Chinese veto of any resolution in the Security Council.
Syria's response has been more hostility towards the Arab League and accusations of treason and conspiratorial plots against Syria. The slippery Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Moallem declared the resumption of the iron-fist crackdown against the protests. Also the Syrian side rejected outright the Arab League's proposal that a national unity government be formed within two weeks. It is now absolutely certain that the regime is preparing a fight to the bitter end. I believe that Syria's belligerence is due largely to the support of Russia and China in the UN Security Council.
It is not clear how much longer and how many more thousands of Syrians have to die before Russia and China see sense and support the International Community to protect the people of Syria.
Most Arab States are now aligned against Assad. The options are narrowing and there is no hope for Arab diplomacy to make any headway. It is indeed unfortunate that Assad did not grab the opportunities offered to him by the Arab League and has instead chosen the bloody path of violence and massacres. If he does not change course soon he will face a fate similar to that of Gaddafi's or Saddam Hussein's.
The question is how to get around the Veto. Some legal experts believe that by invoking the obscure UN Resolution 377, also known as the "Uniting for Peace" Resolution, it would not be necessary to seek a UN Security Council Resolution.
On 27 June 1950 USA called on the UN to use force to get North Korea out of South Korea as they had ignored the Security Council Resolution of June 25th. This was voted for but Russia could not use the Veto because it was still boycotting the UN. As a result, the United States pushed through the resolution as a means of circumventing possible Soviet vetoes. The measure states that, "in the event that the Security Council cannot maintain International Peace, a matter can be taken up by the General Assembly". This procedure has been used 10 times so far, most notably in 1956 to help resolve the Suez Canal crisis. Britain and France, which were occupying parts of the canal at the time, vetoed Security Council resolutions calling for their withdrawal. The United States called for an emergency "Uniting for Peace" session of the General Assembly, which passed a withdrawal resolution. (A simple majority vote is required.)
There is a general but not legally universal consensus that in exceptional circumstances the International Community can act to prevent human catastrophes as happened in Kosovo and Serbia in the late 1990s. In case of paralyzed United Nations Security Council and to stop flagrant war crimes against humanity, large scale violations of human rights and ethnic cleansing, all these can provide a legitimate basis for action on the part of the International Community.
Experts believe that if the Security Council is incapable of acting, a new norm of intervention by a coalition of states would seem to be entirely justified where large scale atrocities are being committed.
Atrocities and massacres are occurring daily in Syria.
Follow Nehad Ismail on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nehadismail