Archive for February, 2012

February 27, 2012

With Being a Great Power Comes Many Responsibilities

I don’t consider myself a realist, not truly. I believe that there are instances where motives other than power and gain thereof should promote policy-making. I believe that it’s part of the national good to work through multilateral organizations whereever possible and to share the burden of keeping the peace with friends and allies. I believe it’s possible to make moral decisions and good decisions and sometimes, just sometimes, have them wind up being the same thing. Which is why I’ve had such a problem with attempting to square myself with the ongoing problems in Syria. I’ve devoted more digital ink to the situation there than any other subject, barring the United Nations itself.

For observers of Syria in the Western world, the sense has been growing that the situation, if ever within the realm of possibility to control, is no longer within our ability to influence in a positive manner. To be frank, it hurts. It is frustrating beyond measure that the best we can hope for in this situation rapidly seems to be becoming “a short civil war”. It feels somehow wrong to even admit that possibility that there won’t be a solution that can be imposed from outside, as we sit here in front of our computer screens and watch atrocity after atrocity be committed. Today’s publication from Mother Jones on a “target list” circulated by the Syrian government, while well known to Syrian activists for months, is yet another look into the lengths the Assad regime is willing to go to cement its rule that is jarring to tuned-in liberals and conservatives alike.

A large part of this feeling comes from what has been a core part of our national identity for several generations now. The belief that the United States, due to its unique placement in the international system, is omnipotent and therefore can and should be able to fix all the world’s ills is a meme that has been proliferate and gaining strength since we charged to the rescue in 1917 and only grew with the end of the Cold War. However, that sort of belief, in ourselves and other states in us, is a falsehood that we should be quietly working to correct. The Syrian opposition may well have learned the lesson from Kosovo and Libya that eventually, the United States is coming. That we have to be coming, because that’s what the United States does. That belief can’t continue; as Robert Caruso made clear earlier today, the footprint for even a “limited” intervention would be far greater than many in the United States would be willing to consider. And no matter how gung-ho she may be in private, Secretary Clinton’s public concerns over arming the Syrian opposition are most certainly valid.

I don’t believe that this sort of thinking marks a belief in American Decline, or worry that we’re going to lose our status of preeminence in the international order. Rather, the exact opposite is true, that this viewpoint is one of a country that is finally comfortable with its role in international affairs. A large part of being a mature, responsible Great Power, or superpower even, is knowing that you can’t be everywhere at once. Even the world’s greatest power has limits and must reach a point where it determines whether its core interests are at stake. I truly want to have faith that the international community can unite to end the killing in Syria, and wish Kofi Annan the best of luck in his role as the joint United Nations-League of Arab States envoy in trying to strike a cease-fire. But the United States can’t do everything alone. Indeed, there are some lifts that are too heavy even for a coalition to achieve, as lack of consensus at the Friends of Syria meeting showed last week.

I haven’t given up hope that Syria surprises me in a positive way, clearing a path towards a solution. This became less likely than ever this morning with the announcement that the Syrian National Council, which the United Kingdom has indicated it will support as the legitimate government of Syria, has splintered with the formation of the Syrian Patriotic Group. The lack of a united opposition is just one of the reasons that United States is looking less and less likely to become directly involved, though indirectly providing material through our sales to allies. And it may be time for those of us who advocate for changes in norms, as represented by the Responsibility to Protect and other liberal international causes, to recognize that not every problem has a solution that can be pushed down by the United States. Or if there is one, there are associated costs and off-sets that we must be willing to accept. There are many responsibilities that Great Powers face, including one to their own people, and to the system at large, to maintain that status. To paraphrase a recent post by Jay Ulfelder, the moral response here may well be to act in the interest of the greater international community by forgoing intervention in Syria and be able to take on the world’s problems that we can solve.

February 23, 2012

Secretary-General: Not the Chief Legal Scholar of the UN

The ever-impressive Laura Rozen sat down with Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota on Tuesday for a wide-ranging conversation. Among the topics that came up was ongoing tension among the international community regarding Iran’s nuclear program. An IAEA mission left Iran this week after failing to gain access to the Parchin military facility to the inspection team on the ground. Brazil and Turkey have been working together for years now to attempt to find a solution to the stalemate outside of the P5+1 negotiation process, so it’s no surprise that Minister Patriota wanted to discuss the matter. What truly caught my interest was his statement regarding the potential for Israeli preemptive strikes:

“No doubt adding an additional flashpoint of military action in a volatile region will greatly exacerbate tensions,” Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told Yahoo News in an interview in New York Tuesday. The international community should proceed “with the utmost caution.”

“There is a role for him in this,” Patriota said he had proposed to the UN chief. “One sometimes hears the expression, ‘all options are on the table.’ But some actions are contrary to international law.”

Patriota’s comments come as the United States, United Kingdom and Russia have asked Israel both privately and publicly not to carry out a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

I agree with Mr. Patriota that an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be the catalyst for an even more unstable Middle East, and that states should actively seek to discourage Tel Aviv from taking such a course of action. I further believe that the United Nations most certainly has a role to play in continuing to foster negotiations between Iran and the rest of the world on how to verify that its nuclear program is peaceful. I’m slightly more hesitant about his stressing the need for the Secretary-General to weigh in.

The United Nations Secretary-General has many jobs as the head of the world’s most far-flung international organization. As the chief of the Secretariat, he manages thousands of civil servants around the globe, each strive to improve . As the face of the United Nations, Mr. Ban has to bear the brunt of criticism when things go wrong, when his nominal employees perform horrific acts, or when states dig their heels in against taking strong action counter to the rest of the world. Under the Article 99 of the UN Charter, the Secretary-General has a role in maintaining peace and security, having the unilateral ability to bring items of concern before the Security Council. Here’s where things get more conflicted. A denouncement of Israel planning strikes against Iran is perfectly valid as a practical matter; as a matter of legal principle, however, I’m uncertain whether “legal scholar” is a hat the Secretary-General does or should wear.

The UN Charter maintains some vagaries when it comes to Article 51′s defense of self-defense. International law experts have grappled with its terms for over six decades now, though the majority cite the need for “an armed attack” to occur prior to being able to invoke the clause. This becomes difficult to align with the notion of the preemption of an imminent attack, as intelligence-gathering has gained in sophistication since the drafting of the Charter. The cloud surrounding the concept if anything has grown murkier over the last decade, in no small part thanks to the Bush Administration’s acceptance of “preventive” action. Kofi Annan had no such qualms, however, addressing the General Assembly in 2010 denouncing the concept in its entirety. That was an immediate past Secretary-General, not a sitting one, though Annan didn’t hesitate in speaking out against the US’ war against Iraq.

If the Secretary-General does speak out against Israel taking unilateral action, it should be seen as a plea to keep the situation from spiraling out control and exacerbating the current threat to international peace and security. I’m less certain that it should be seen as international condemnation of the principles behind the theory of preemptive action and a rebuke of the concept in general. I personally feel a great deal of ambivalence towards the concept; the UN Charter leans strongly against its legality, and yet I have trouble squaring away that were I to be a world leader, I would ignore accurate intelligence to uphold it. It’s a matter that should be debated and rightly deserves a renewed focus in the current environment, but I believe that debate should be at the International Court of Justice, not the halls of the Secretariat.

February 22, 2012

AMISOM: New Start or New Band-Aid?

The coverage surrounding today’s UN Security Council unanimous decision on Somalia would have you believe that the corner is about to be turned, the end is nigh for Somalia’s problems, and help is on the way, with another 5,00 forces soon to be delivered. You would be quite wrong on that point. While today’s Security Council resolution is important, it’s not for the reasons that you may think.

Today’s vote approved Resolution 2036, the text of which can be found here. The provision that’s being most widely reported is Operative Clause 2’s increase of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)’s maximum number of peacekeepers:

Requests the African Union to increase AMISOM’s force strength from 12,000 to a maximum of 17,731 uniformed personnel, comprised of troops and personnel of formed police units;

This is true; the upper number of troops that can now take part has been raised, meaning that now more troops can be supported by AMISOM, which is itself at least partially funded by the United Nations and European Union. What the draft doesn’t make clear, however, is that the “new” troops are already on the ground in Southern Somalia.

That’s right, this resolution authorizes the status quo and allows for the bureaucracy surrounding the mission to function more smoothly. You see, the Kenyan Army invaded Somalia late last year in an attempt to suppress the growth and momentum of al-Shabaab. Ethiopia soon followed suit, with the two armies, and AMISOM, working to push back al-Shabaab. They’ve been doing a decent job of it ad-hoc so far, but the United Kingdom has been pushing for a formalization of this effort. The desire to finally lockdown security is apparent in that once you actually get into the weeds of this resolution, it reads like a strategy to end al-Shabaab. Which it is. For example, the text expands “AMISOM’s presence to three sectors outside Mogadishu and supports implementation of some of the key elements of the new strategic concept for AMISOM adopted by the AU Peace and Security Council”. S/2036 also expands the mandate of the AU mission to specifically cite al-Shabaab as an entity which it is authorized to use “all necessary means” to target.

What’s interesting about this resolution is that it spells out what is left vague in most other resolutions dealing with peace-enforcement by regional bodies. When NATO is given a green-light to operate, it tends to pick up the ball and run with whatever scant detail the authorization provides. The African Union, however, doesn’t have the budget of the North Atlantic community, and given the unwillingness for the Security Council to launch another blue helmet mission in Somalia, is content to do the fighting while the UN pays the bills. Those bills will be rising substantially now that Kenyan forces will be under the banner of AMISOM; from $250M to $550M for logistics and supplies to be taken from the UN’s regular budget, while the EU foots the bill for AMISOM’s troops. Despite the cost, several states are still dismayed that the draft didn’t go far enough. In the speeches following the vote, US Ambassador Susan Rice expressed disappointment that a maritime component was not added to the resolution’s aims, while the Indian Permanent Representative wished that the costs covered by the resolution included state’s patrols of the Gulf of Aden and surrounding waters. As India, China, France, the UK, and US all have ships in the region, it would have been quite the payout.

This isn’t to say that the resolution is solely focused on the military component of rehabilitating Somalia. It does stress in several places the need for political and economic components to the efforts to rebuild Somalia after al-Shabaab is cleared from an area, as well as emphasizing the need for humanitarian assistance to be able to move unhindered. What’s interesting, however, is that the United Kingdom pushed this text through at this time. The London Conference on Somalia is set to open tomorrow, and according to Security Council Report, several states were hesitant to vote today, for danger of putting the cart before the horse.

Another provision worth noting is the ascendance of charcoal to the level of “embargoed conflict mineral”. As I learned yesterday, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has had a ban on the export of charcoal for quite some time, as its sale is a huge funder of Shabaab’s activities. Unable to enforce the ban, however, the international community has now stepped in. Under Operative Clause 22, states are to be forbidden from importing Somali charcoal, directly or indirectly. Three experts, Laura Seay, Dan Solomon, and Semhar Araia weren’t keen on the likelihood of success of this embargo when asked on Twitter, noting that enforcement issues and continuing demand will hamper the efforts, likely resulting in

It remains to be seen what lasting impact today’s resolution will have, as the London Conference convenes tomorrow. I’d like to say that I’m hopeful about the conference’s chances, but most of the reports are tinged with doubt. It doesn’t help that the final communiqué from the conference was leaked last week, leaving many wondering what the point of the conference is at all. Granted, this is the first major international conference on Somalia that actually thought to include Muslim-majority states to take part. But members of the diaspora are less than pleased, and potential new funders, like Turkey and the UAE, are grumbling at a seeming bias towards the US and Ethiopia’s views.

Tomorrow’s conference is expected to endorse the dissolving of the TFG, to be replaced by a new political body entirely, with a permanent fedeeral government to be set up by August 2012. That this is even being considered, rather than simply extending the TFG’s mandate by yet another year, is a welcome bit of new thinking that could help push Somalia on a new path after twenty years of being a failed state. It’s needed, because otherwise the “increase” of AMISOM’s forces will be just another band-aid hoping to cure a critical wound. The international community is finally acting with a renewed determination towards getting Somalia. But like most things relating to Somalia, the situation on the ground is what matters. AMISOM’s “new” forces won’t be a game-changer, but they’ll hopefully at least be the start of something big.

February 21, 2012

The Enduring Myth of Monoliths

In this day and age, most convenient fictions are easy enough to spot, with a high level of cynicism running rampant and an active “peanut gallery” component to the discourse in the form of bloggers. Which is why it’s so troubling to me that some basic narratives remain virtually unchallenged, or if opposed, done so quietly and on a small scale. In this instance, my grief is with the propensity of commentators and policy-makers alike to rely on the convenience that monolithic perceptions of institutions provide.

There are times where the concept of a monolithic institution is expedient, when attempting to give broad overviews of situations. There’s also a level of analytical use to seeing things from a zoomed-out, macro level, rather than examining the nuts and bolts of an institution. However, there’s a responsibility to investigate past the surface once that initial glance is achieved. In reality, monoliths are more often than not anything but unified once you delve into their inner workings, a lesson that the United States has been horrendously slow to grasp, sometimes leading to disastrous presumptions and bases for policy decisions.

During the Cold War, everyone knew that the Communist World was a group of states linked by the singular notion of communist domination over democracies. As should have been apparent as far back as Josef Tito’s expulsion from the Cominform in 1948, the idea of Communism being a single-minded organism, as opposed to a colony of individual thinkers, was a myth. Instead, the myth of a partnered Russia and China managed to hold on for decades, with the fact that the two were both Communist in their form of government making any differences in policy between the two dismissible. It took until the Nixon Administration to realize that the split between the People’s Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was large enough to be able to use it to the advantage of the United States, prompting President Richard Nixon’s much heralded trip to China.

A distressing need to have simplicity in narrative is apparent when examining opposition movements, in this particular instance the uprising in Syria. For the last two weeks, we’ve been informed of the need to “arm the Syrian opposition” to take action against President Bashar Assad and the security forces of Syrian. Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain came out recently in favor of running guns to the Syrian opposition, though they would put it a different way, and they aren’t alone in the Senate. Even the editorial board of The Washington Post has come out in favor of providing supplies to the opposition:

So how to stop the massacres? The most available and workable solution is tactical and materiel support for the anti-regime forces, delivered through neighbors such as Turkey or the Persian Gulf states. Opponents say that would increase the violence, but violence in Syria will continue to escalate as long as the regime believes it can survive by force. Others worry that radicals among the opposition will be empowered. But what will strengthen extremists the most is the failure of democratic nations to act and the entry of groups such as al-Qaeda into the vacuum.

Despite the weight of the Post’s opinion, it doesn’t circumvent the fact that beneath the thin veneer of unity in cause, the removal of Assad, there is no one opposition movement. The Syrian National Council (SNC), composed of exiles, dissidents within Syria, and the Local Coordinating Committees, has assumed the mantle of international darling of the same vein as the Transitional National Council in Libya. However, there’s a small hitch in that analysis; the National Coordination Committee, a divergent group based entirely within Syria, and composed of enough groups to deny the SNC sole legitimacy. Then there’s the matter of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is itself a splintered group of former soldiers and transplanted fighters looking to take on Assad, as Marc Lynch points out in his new CNAS piece. Any semblance of a united front is a myth formed from their hatred of the Assad family.  I had a lengthy conversation with Adam Elkus, Dan Trombly, Rei Tang, Dan Solomon and Robert Caruso on this and other Syria topics on the Intervention podcast, so go listen for an in-depth conversation on the situation as it stands.

When speaking of opposition movements in general, it’s extremely easy to cast them as “the opposite of X”, X being whatever leader or idea has fallen out of favor at present. What has to be clear, however, is that the divergent views that may be allied together towards a certain goal in the short-term are likely to be fractious on the coalition once that goal is met or denied completely, if a goal can be decided on in the first place. As Trombly wrote in December on Russia’s at the time nascent protester movement, the streets of Moscow were filled with Russians from across the political spectrum. Leftist, far-leftist and nationalistic parties have come together in the goal of defeating Vladimir Putin, but they are no means united. In the strong likelihood that Putin wins the upcoming election in the first round, how likely is it that the coalition can hold together at the seams?

The same can be said for the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was viewed, despite extreme differences from city to city, and within cities themselves, as a singular entity. I recently had the chance to listen to an Occupier talk about why the system broke down, and came away with the belief that the educated elite sought to make changes in the system as it stood, but the group never coalesced around a united set of goals. Once winter set in, and the breadth of views, from reforming the political system to creating a system of shared wealth to the need to draw the state into crackdowns, led to a muting of the voice of the group in favor of complacency, exposing to all the lack of unity visible previously to many. The simplistic narrative that surrounds both of these movements prevents understanding of how they, and other movements, function, in favor of a broad-brush stroke.

Those working against state interests aren’t alone in being accredited with non-existent unity. The state itself is often seen as a monolithic institution, rather than a collection of individuals, at the risk of sounding overly constructivist. In developing strategies and plans of countering actions that go against American interests, the offending regime and state are the only components taken into account it would seem. This isn’t to say that states are falling out of favor as the preferred standard unit of international relations. No matter how the sands may be shifting, power is still held in state institutions, for good or for ill, and at a certain point attempting to map every variable that would affect a state’s decision-making process would become overly cumbersome to planners. However, there does exist a responsibility to not gloss over the effects of decisions taken against states on those people who reside within the border. There is a difficulty, I must admit, in reconciling the knowledge that policy-tools from economic sanctions to the use of force are legitimate protests against a state’s actions, when the people of that state have no agency in their state’s choices.

Nowhere is this sharper for me than the US’s policy in Iran. Following the effects of sanctions on the population of Iraq was covered extensively by the media in the mid-1990s, broad, sweeping embargoes fell out of fashion for a time. In their place, target sanctions against elites or “smart sanctions” were seen as the wave of the future, capable of inflicting pain upon governments  while sparing their people. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a reversal of that trend in Iran, with the potential for the same to be seen in Syria. It’s tough to realize that the collapse of the rial isn’t just preventing Tehran from replacing centrifuges in their nuclear facilities, but keeping families from being able to buy bread, when the democracy present in Iran exists so-far as the Ayatollah allows it. I’m not saying the Obama Administration’s policy of sanctions is a failed one. But Americans in general, and policymakers in particular, have to be cognizant of the multiple dimensions inherent in the many stages of conflict, and willing to be brutally honest about the effects of any action taken.

Finally, the concept of international institutions writ large, and the United Nations in particular, often face down the convenience of monoliths. There is a basis for this interpretation when considering the United Nations, but for a much smaller set of instances than the general population and many commentators are able to discern. When actions are taken by the Secretariat, the team of international public servants headed by the Secretary-General, this is a viable instance of the United Nations acting as an institution of its own. However, when critiques are lobbied at the UN, it’s often in reaction to perceived inaction, most recently following the Syria vote in the Security Council. Here we see the result of the United Nations as a collection of states, in that Russia and China voiced their displeasure with a prescribed action, and under the rules all have agreed to, vetoed said action. The easier idea to grasp is that the United Nations has its own flag and therefore is clearly the source of the problem; it’s much easier to separate the two tracks that the body has to balance.

Without that nuance, you get policy-makers and legislators like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher denouncing the institution as a whole and the works it performs on the basis of its inclusive membership. International institutions serve the will of their states, in allowing the powerful to set agendas, to dominate discourse, and push methods of actions. However, they also serve to amplify and enhance those aims. The United Nations is a collection of states acting in their own interest. The United Nations is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Both statements are true, rendering more simplistic narratives false.

What this all comes to is a frustration with the simplest narratives gaining the most traction and amplification. Broad strokes are fine, so long as they’re quickly replaced with more thoughtful examinations of the issues and institutions being dealt with. If they aren’t, they become a crutch for policy-makers to lean on, continually surprised when they turn out to be made of rubber. I get that nuance is annoying; it gets in the way of quick and easy decisions. But I prefer difficult reality over convenient mythology any day.

February 15, 2012

Extended Version: On Budgets, UNESCO, and Overwhelming Pessimism

It has been a unbelievablely slow day at work today. How slow you ask? So slow I felt compelled to write about the FY 2013 Budget over at UN Dispatch. That slow. Granted, there were several extremely interesting points in the State Department’s budget request, which formed the backbone of the UN Dispatch piece, copied here:

Buried in the full State Department Congressional Justification [PDF], though, is a piece of information that’s actually a bit more interesting.  During a briefing on the FY13 Budget at the State Department on Monday, posted above, Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides was asked about page 713, which involves the funding of UNESCO. While FY 2012 had the line zeroed out, the FY 2013 request showed an increase to $79M, the same as in FY 2011. Secretary Nides replied:

Well, let’s do UNESCO first. As you know, the Congress has prohibited us for funding UNESCO this year. And as you know, the President has also articulated quite clearly that he would like a waiver to allow us to participate in UNESCO. We have put the money in the budget, realizing that we’re not going to be able to spend the money unless we get the waiver, and we have made it clear to the Congress we’d like a waiver. So we will work with them and work with our friends and colleagues on Capitol Hill in hopes that we can work an agreement out for us to fund. UNESCO does an enormously – a lot of enormously good work, and we’d like to make sure that we have a contribution commensurate with their work.

Secretary Nides’ statement gives me at least some cause for cheer. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that Congress will pass a revocation of the law or even consider such a waiver in an election year.  The State Department’s budget is also likely to face renewed threats of cuts in the House of Representatives, and UNESCO’s funding will be a prime target. That being said, that the Obama Administration even calculated for providing dues to UNESCO shows that they haven’t given up completely on the body’s funding being restored.

That article was mostly reporting. As this is my own, personal blog, I feel a bit freer to throw around my opinion. My opinion being? Unless Congress flips in November, there’s no way this budget request comes through unscathed. Particularly the request for a waiver for UNESCO’s funding. And that is both a shame and a travesty. I wrote at length about last year’s budget fight, and how short-sighted Republicans have been when it comes to funding international affairs, those in the House in particular. None of which make any sense to me, several months later. Why wouldn’t we want to increase funding to peacekeeping, particularly as our own defense budget is slashed? When will Republican’s realize the value added in funding multilateral missions that require force? And I doubt that members of the House will appreciate the fact that the United Nations has passed a budget that actually calls for a reduction in spending for the first time in years. The time when Republicans were allowed to come out in favor of the UN, like former Senator Alan Simpson, seems to have passed, or at least has to be muzzled until retirement.

We’re likely in for a repeat of the events of the FY 12 fight for the next eight months until the election hits. Depending on the outcome of the election, the skirmishes over State’s budget, and the UNESCO waiver, will do one of the following. Should Obama win and the House remain under Speaker Boehner, they’ll likely continue apace, with the Senate acting as a vanguard against the House’s inevitable cuts. If the Democrats win enough seats to either flip the House or ease the Republican majority to a razor-thin margin, the calls for reducing Foggy Bottom’s budget will likely decrease, at least some. If the GOP manages to take control of the Senate, we would likely see an increase in pressure for cuts, as they join with the House in an assault on the re-elected Obama. Worst case scenario for State: the International budget gets trounced under a GOP White House and Congress.

As for UNESCO, I’m still pretty upset about that. There is zero chance that a waiver passes before November. I repeat: zero. Not in an election cycle in which candidates are falling over themselves to prove that they will be the most responsive to Israel’s security needs. While the Palestinian effort to gain acceptance into international bodies has certainly slowed, there’s always the chance of a resurgence, at which point more organizations could see a reduction in US funding. As that’s a chance I would hate to take, and I’m sure would leave the United States reeling as it realized just how much we depend on multilateral support, the responsible thing for Congress to do would be repeal the law. Then again, when was the last time Congress was responsible?

February 14, 2012

Libya: Neither Paradise nor Beyond Thunderdome

Since the end of the NATO bombing portion of the Libyan civil war, there’s been a lot of speculation about whether the West acted in the right in intervening in the first place. The thrust of the two main arguments are that either: the United States and its allies prevented a massacre, upheld the Responsibility to Protect, and the future of Libya is a far brighter one than if Qaddafi had been allowed to hold power; or, the entire mission was a mistake from the beginning, one lacking the strategic components necessary to be worth it, and the aftermath is a Libya that is far from the ideal that the former group paints it as. Both groups have solid points, though I myself lean more towards the former. It’s hard to argue, though, with the fact that Libya’s transition to democracy is anything but smooth.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) which first consolidated the revolution against Qaddafi into political power has been less than effective when it comes to actually governing the state. This isn’t all that much of a surprise to me, considering that while several members did formerly serve in the regime, way back when, the Qaddafi government was basically one-man. Any semblance of lasting institutions were completely torn-down over the Colonel’s lengthy rule, and rebuilding those is going to take time, far less time than most outsiders are willing to provide rebuilding states. When one person has controlled all decisions, and changed laws and rules according to his whim, how then do you know how to run a state? And don’t accuse me of paternalism at this point; it’s not that I think the Libyans are incapable of self-rule, just that they don’t have practice.

One of the most frustrating things to see in the aftermath of conflict is an insistence that new governments move faster, seize control of their territory quicker, raise themselves to the standards we have set for them. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that new governments have a responsibility to move as quickly as possible in providing, among other things, security and good governance to their people. Pressure should be kept up on these states, less they think that its acceptable behavior to the international community. But I don’t expect perfection overnight, or for a government to completely rebuild its civil society in six months time. As someone who opposed the War in Iraq at its outset, one of the least convincing arguments I’ve heard about why it was a terrible idea is the current lack of political stability in Iraq, which oddly enough is one of the right’s largest reasons why we shouldn’t have withdrawn our uniformed forces. But I digress.

I’m not an expert in democratization, but I do believe that these things take time. Tripoli fell just shy of six months ago; Qaddafi was killed four months ago. Going by the standards that many seem to arbitrarily set on either completely new political entities like South Sudan or new regimes such as the one in Libya, the United States itself was an abject failure for the first several years of its existence. Soldiers went unpaid and over-armed, the central government wasn’t sure how to enforce its will on new territory, the original system set up to govern was found to be completely unworkable, there were questions on how to handle loyalists who still lived in the new country. The list goes on. Two centuries of practice exist between now and then, leading many to believe that the country sprung forth in its current form.  The basic principles remain the same, so far as state-building goes, and those two-hundred years of practice aren’t easily transferred.

It’s in this light I came across an article in the Washington Post, helpfully posted by Daniel Solomon, describing a new challenge faced by the NTC:

Representatives of about 100 militias from western Libya said Monday they had formed a new federation to prevent infighting and allow them to press the country’s new government for further reform.

The move was a blow to the National Transitional Council, which helped lead the eight-month uprising against longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi that ended with his capture and death in October. The NTC has struggled for months to stamp its authority on the country, and has largely failed to decommission or bring under its control the hundreds of militias that fought in the war.

There is an initial, visceral reaction to this news, one that speaks to many of the fears that go hand-in-hand with the Arab Spring writ large. The fear that for all our best hopes, this will end in a new enemy to the United States. I think that there’s reason behind this reaction, but I do think that there’s also room for cautious optimism. This development could go one of two ways, by my seeing. The first, far preferable way to outside observers, is that the militias in the new Federation accept the results of future elections and continue the development of a political wing to their machinations. Members of this Federation could contest seats in the National Parliament elections this summer against those backed by the NTC. They could then go on to become either a loyal opposition to the members of the NTC, or the leaders of the government in their own right. Or, given the difficulties that the NTC has in unifying command under the Defense Ministry, the Federation could face the same problems and lose control of its groups, furthering violence as they turn on each other. Neither path is a foregone conclusion at this point.

Splits of this nature aren’t inevitable, but they have always been likely, considering that rather than undergoing the Libyan version of de-Baathification, many officers in the National Army are holdovers from the Qaddafi days. What’s needed in Libya is an increase of trust between militias and transparency on behalf of the NTC. Proposals, not laws yet, for how to divide up Libya’s oil revenues should be prepared ahead of the seating of the new Parliament and made public, and NTC meetings should be made more open until national elections in June. Militias should be encouraged to reach out to each other, in information sharing and training exercises, fostered by the Ministry of Defense. I don’t believe that the many disparate militias will cede control automatically; transition time there is needed, too.

None of this is intended to give a free pass to the NTC for its failings and carpet over difficulties inherent in transitioning to a democratic state. The NTC shouldn’t get just a pat on the shoulder and soothing words for its inability to prevent torture in militia hospitals. Nor is it a naive wish and hope that renewed clashes between militias will just go away. With the number of arms floating around the country, from light weapons to MANPADS, and the current lack of opportunity outside of the militias, the now once-weekly clashes in Tripoli are likely to continue. Rather, this is to say that the United States in particular should be working to assist the NTC and this new group in forming a free and prosperous Libya together.  I stress again I’m not an expert on any of these matters; if what I’m saying is misreading the situation or runs counter to facts, correct me. But in my view, instead of panicking and washing our hands of Libya, we should be fostering ties, and lending assistance wherever possible, through the auspices of the State Department or the United Nations, to keep Libya from pulling apart at the seams.

February 12, 2012

Peacekeepers in Syria, or “What the hell, Arab League”

Well, that was a short-lived break from talking about the United Nations and Syria. But seriously, this deserves comment, because no really, Arab League, what the hell? That seems to have been the resounding opinion following today’s meeting in Cairo of the Arab League to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. The declaration that came out of the meeting manages to somehow both be both horrible as a matter of policy and politically.

The resolution, which I’ve yet to see in English in full, or a vote count for, has several clauses that make sense given the continuing stalemate between the Assad government and the international community. The League calls upon its members to increase the economic sanctions they’ve placed on Damascus and end diplomatic cooperation with the Syrian state. Not the worst things I’ve heard, and are sure to increase pressure on Assad.

What’s more, though, the resolution calls for “opening communication channels with the Syrian opposition and providing all forms of political and material support to it.” I can’t be sure what they were thinking in passing this provision, but in reading this I most certainly have to say that “all forms of material support” includes arms. It really can’t not mean the transfer of weapons to the Syrian opposition, including the Free Syrian Army. So that’s sure to help solve the crisis.

Surprisingly, there has been no mention of the Saudi draft resolution that’s been passed around in the General Assembly, and which is likely to be voted on  later this month. But the United Nations wasn’t left out, oh no. The resolution called upon the Security Council to launch a joint United Nations-League of Arab States peacekeeping mission in Syria, based off of the hybrid UN-African Union force operating in Darfur. The reaction among every single observer of the situation has been akin to “…lolwut”.

When I first heard about it, I was hopeful that a wire translator had someone swapped “observer” for “peacekeeping”, as a revitalized UN-LAS observer mission was discussed the other day. Alas, peacekeeping was accurate. So, let’s deal with the political problems inherent in this first. Pushing for a peacekeeping force goes far, far beyond what’s called for in Saudi Arabia’s draft resolution, which in and of itself isn’t bad. But it also manages to go beyond what was vetoed not just in the resolution in October, but the one vetoed just over a week ago. Call me crazy, but why on Earth would you push a stronger proposal when there’s no real sign that either Assad nor the opposition are serious about the negotiation that would be necessary to facilitate this process?

Which brings us to the politics of the actual Security Council. Word is, according to the Arab League’s Secretary-General, the Russians are on board with the idea:

Elaraby told the Cairo meeting that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov wrote him a letter Saturday that conveyed what he called a partial change in Moscow’s stand on the Syrian crisis. He quoted Lavrov as saying Russia would agree to a joint U.N.-Arab League peacekeeping force.

To be blunt, after the last resolution’s up and down chances of passing, I’ll believe that Russia is in support when I see Churkin’s hand raise in favor. I understand that Lavrov’s mission to Damascus last Tuesday did not have the intended effect. But have the upswing in killings caused a change of heart in Moscow to the extent that they’ll allow a resolution that goes beyond the provisions of the Morocco draft before dilution to meet Russian demands? I’m highly skeptical.

All of which goes without mentioning the fact that Beijing also vetoed the Moroccan draft, rather than abstaining. There’s no real reason to assume that China will sit back on this one and let Russia take the lead, especially considering its earlier veto was ideological opposed to relating to ties to Syria. And we’ve heard no such word from China that they’re also backing the Arab League’s new initiative.

Which brings us to why the Arab League requesting a peacekeeping force is poor policy. Fun fact: when launching peacekeeping missions, it helps when there’s a peace to keep. There clearly is not such a peace currently, not with anti-aircraft weapons being fired into random houses in Homs. And there will be even less of one once the “material support” to the FSA comes through. Who honestly believes that sending lightly armed forces into an increasing civil war situation is a good idea?

Further, traditional peacekeeping operations have had the mandate of keeping two warring sides apart once a peace agreement or ceasefire has been agreed to. This takes place under the auspices of Chapter “VI and a Half” of the UN Charter, as it falls somewhere between the Chapter VI provisions for peaceful solutions to conflicts and Chapter VII enforcement mechanisms. As such, one of the important provisos in these missions is that the host country either invites the United Nations within its borders, or acquiesces as part of a ceasefire deal. There is little chance of that occurring in Syria, which has already rejected the entire notion of such a mission.

Which means that in order to get past Syrian sovereignty on the matter, a resolution will have to be passed under Chapter VII. And with the lack of a ceasefire, the mandate for any blue helmets that manage to get deployed will have to be particularly robust if its to have any hope of protecting civilians, which would entail firing on both the FSA and the Syrian Armed Forces. This all makes me wonder just what it was that Russia has agreed to.

What’s more, as Vanessa Parra asked earlier, which states would contribute forces to such a “peacekeeping” operation? Troop contributing countries (TCC) are already stretched thin, when you consider that not a single peacekeeping operation is fully staffed up to the maximum afforded under its mandate. And the majority of those missions are actual peacekeeping missions, rather than peace-enforcing. The only country I’ve seen so far that has been interested in intervention in Syria has been Qatar; even Turkey is hedging its bets, making it unclear whether they would donate ground forces to such a mission.

I get that the Arab League is attempting to rehabilitate its reputation from being a club for kings and dictators, into a force for good. More cynically, they’re trying to deprive Iran of one of its few remaining allies in the region. That’s fine; never let it be said that doing the right thing and doing something in your own interest are mutually exclusive. But I can’t get behind their push for a peacekeeping force.

A UN-LAS peacekeeping force manages to both be a poor idea in terms of actually being able to be implemented, as well as politically. When Russia or China force a weakening of the resolution or a veto, or Council members balk at the idea of sending forces into active combat, or any of the many other problems with this proposal, the Arab League’s credibility will suffer. The correct order of operations here: pass the draft resolution supporting the political transition in the General Assembly; get a political deal, somehow;  then start talking about peacekeeping. To do otherwise is a mistake that the people of Syria can ill afford.

February 12, 2012

On Famous Deaths, the Media, and Bad Things Worldwide

Forgive me from taking a break from opining on the UN and Syria, but I needed somewhere to put down these thoughts, and what good is having a blog if you aren’t allowed to do that from time to time? It helps that this actually is at least somewhat related to world affairs.

As anyone who’s been within a hundred-yard radius of anyone with a smartphone has learned by now, Whitney Houston passed away tonight, at the age of 48. It’s sad, for sure, as I have fond memories of Ms. Houston playing the Fairy Godmother in the late nineties version Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I do think though that I may have been just on the edge of being too young for her glory days.

In any case, as is the norm in this day and age, within minutes of AP breaking the news, Twitter was inundated with an outpouring of public grief and reminiscing. Which is all well and good, but then I saw this tweet from Andy Carvin:

Andy Carvin Tweets About Syria and Whitney Houston

My initial reaction to this tweet was a form of astonished indignation. “How could people be so shallow? These people have never even met Whitney Houston, first of all. Second, this is one person. Right now hundreds of people have died across Syria.”

Then I paused and thought about that statement, particularly the second part. In my own way, I had to come to the conclusion that my moralistic finger-wagging was rather indefensible. The focus on Syria at the moment is because a larger scale of atrocity than we are used to is occurring before our eyes, broadcast on YouTube and across social media. But as many of the detractors of R2P principles and the growing chorus for intervention in Syria will point out, there are everyday atrocities happening world-wide, out of the spotlight that Syria possesses. How many people have died in the last year in Bahrain? Repression of rights in Central Asia, disease and death in the Great Lakes region, growing political instability in the South Pacific, all manage to pass-by with far less notice.

It’s impossible for even the most informed and passionate individual to keep track of all the evils of the world; who am I to judge people for not paying the proper attention to Syria over a celebrity death?

That said, shifting the focus from individuals to the media as an entity, there I do have feel I have room to find fault. A special was set to air on CNN tonight on the ongoing assault on Homs in Syria; that was bumped for live coverage of Houston’s death. While it’s arguable just who would have been watching CNN at 10pm on a Saturday night anyway, I can’t defend the network for their programming decision. Whichever producer or executive came to the conclusion that since every other network would be covering this story and it is news and therefore wipe the schedule must be ditched was sorely mistaken.

The reaction of individuals can’t be controlled. In learning about Whitney Houston’s death, I can’t blame people for wanting to publicly show their grief, nor can I condemn them for not paying more attention to world affairs, which arguably affect them less than Houston’s passing. The same can’t be said about what stories the media chooses to broadcast. News networks, in particular the major ones like CNN, have more of a responsibility to tell the bigger stories, to use their role as the Fourth Estate to keep focus on things that may slip by our attention otherwise. There’s no way that Whitney Houston’s death will evade anyone’s knowledge for long; the same can’t be said of horrors taking place in areas many Americans couldn’t find on a map.

February 8, 2012

What’s next for the United Nations and Syria?

The majority of the coverage following Russia and China’s twin veto of the UN Security Council’s resolution on Syria has been devoted to parsing the motives of the two in casting down the draft. I disagree with those who say that a veto was inevitable following the outcome of resolution 1973 on Libya. I most certainly agree that NATO overstepped its bounds in its air-campaign, doubly so when it comes to the arming of the Libyan rebels. However, Russia and China knew what they were getting into when they abstained on what was, as Joshua Foust pointed out in April, “in essence, a declaration of war by the international community against Gadhafi”.

In any case, the reasons for the veto matter less than determining what to do next for this scenario. And for UN observers such as myself, that includes making a determination on whether there’s a role for the United Nations moving forward with this crisis. Despite the frozen nature of the Security Council at this junction, there are a few options on the table for the UN, some less likely than others to succeed. So what can the UN do? I have listed out below a few policy options for the US to consider and/or pursue at the United Nations moving forward.

Removal of Syria from UN bodies:

The United Nations is already working on this, as is evidenced in UNESCO. Syria was quietly nominated to and accepted by acclimation as one of two Arab representatives seated on UNESCO’s Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, which has a human rights component to its work. The members of the Executive Board, including Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, the US, United Kingdom, and France, are pushing to have Syria removed from the seat. The Executive Board next meets on March 10th, and are expected to take action then. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Syria lacks the weight it has in the past at the United Nations, leaving it with few seats to be removed from. The Syrian Arab Republic is currently serving no terms on the ECOSOC, Human Rights Council, or UN Development Programme or UNICEF’s Executive Boards. The only other major human rights body of the United Nations, the Third Committee of the General Assembly, can’t suspend Syria without the GA suspending its full membership. And considering states like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea manage to stay within the UN’s good graces, it’s doubtful that Syria will be suspended anytime soon.

Prognosis: The UNESCO push is likely to succeed, further isolating Damascus, but a lack of other Syrian memberships limits further options.

Uniting for Peace?

After the veto last week, the buzz started up once again that in looking for a ‘Plan B’ on Syria, Uniting for Peace was back on the table. When asked about this option during a press conference yesterday, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin stated that he hadn’t heard about such action being considered, and that if it were it would be “complicated”. He’s right on this one. The problems that I had with the idea last month still are very much the case, particularly in regards to legality. At best, a new General Assembly resolution will be able to encourage states to pass new sanctions against Syria, but these sanctions would be unenforceable in open waters.  I’ve also heard discussion about using a resolution to call for an informal arms embargo as provided in the earliest version of the Morocco draft. The problem remains there that while the states who don’t like Syria will happily block arms sales, the main arms suppliers to Assad are Russia, who won’t allow its vessels to be boarded, and Iran, who would find new and exciting ways to ship arms to Syria. Any sort of blockade that comes without UN Security Council approval will be, and should be, seen as an Act of War. That said, using the General Assembly to endorse the Arab League’s plan, rather than calling for further measures of its own, has a slightly better chance of succeeding. Again, without enforcement measures, though, it’s hard to see the international community’s opinion weighing heavily on the heart of Assad.

Prognosis: Slightly better odds than I originally predicted, provided the UNGA limits itself to endorsement of the League of Arab States’ plan.

United Nations Fact-Finding/Mediation Mission:

Rather than waiting to see if the League of Arab States’ mission resumes, the United Nations could seek to launch a fact-finding mission of its own as to the levels of violence within Syria. Such a provision could be included as part of a General Assembly resolution, however, we again run into enforcement issues. In its resolution last year to launch an investigation into Syria, the Human Rights Council demanded that Damascus cooperate in full with its commission of investigators. It most certainly did not, leading the commissioners to rely on the testimony of defectors and others outside of Syria to gather evidence for their final report. There is no reason to believe that Assad’s government would welcome a new mission into its borders readily, or grant more access to UN observers than they did the Arab League’s team.

Such a proposal would, therefore, require support from the Security Council. In the earliest days of the Security Council, rather than tasking the Secretary-General to undertake peace missions, the Council itself dove right in, utilizing member-states rather than UN diplomats. For example, in the first India-Pakistan conflict in 1948, rather than task the Secretariat to launch an investigation, the UNSC passed Resolution 39. The Resolution set up a commission composed of three member-states, soon upped to five in Resolution 47, to travel to Kashmir and report to the Council on the conditions on the ground before launching mediations. Unfortunately, the military situation in Kashmir prevented the commission from completing its mission, but a similar move could be made with regards to Syria. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether such a move would work, for several reasons.

First, the opposition has made clear its distrust of the Assad government, and continues to make the President’s resignation a precondition for any negotiations with the government. The Assad regime, and Russia to a lesser extent, finds this unpalatable. Further, it’s unlikely that Russia would support a diplomatic initiative directly undertaken by the Security Council for several reasons. The insertion of a UN team into Syria amid rising violence risks the injury of death of one of the observers, a tragedy in itself, but could lead for a push to provide protection for these observers. The slippery-slope on this would be clear for Moscow. Further, Russia is enjoying its sole leverage over Syria, as evidenced in Foreign Minister Lavrov’s trip to Damascus yesterday to present a plan so secret that no details could be revealed.

Prognosis: The General Assembly may choose to send a team, but lacking authority, the UNSC would be forced to take up, and fail, the issue.

Secretary-General Envoy for Syria:

Rather than pushing for an observation mission, the Secretariat could unilaterally insert itself into the Syrian crisis. The Secretary-General under the Charter has rather wide leeway when it comes to diplomatic initiatives, as greats such as Dag Hammarskjold and Kofi Annan have realized. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon could himself launch the sort of shuttle diplomacy that might produce an end to the Syrian crisis. In utilizing the Good Offices of the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban could choose to appoint and send an Envoy for Syria to Damascus, or could undertake the initial trip himself. The idea, while not a guarantee to succeed, has some potential. The United Nations as a body, opposed to a collection of Western plotters, might command Assad’s respect at least slightly more, insofar as accepting an envoy for discussions. Further, the opposition knows quite clearly where the Sec-Gen stands on violence in Syria in light of his condemnation of the Russian and Chinese vetoes. Further, as a second-termer, Mr. Ban has less to fear from the Permanent Five than he did in his first; there’s no reelection to win.

Prognosis: While not guaranteed to end the violence, has potential to help facilitate a political end to the crisis.

Humanitarian Resolution in the UN Security Council:

In light of the ongoing humanitarian disaster that is Syria, one of the most pressing calls has been to set up “safe zones” and “humanitarian corridors” in Syria. While these are non-starters with Russia and China, there is always the option of passing through a resolution that, rather than focusing on the political aspects of the crisis, focuses in on the need to protect refugees and provide aid to those in Syria who need it. Or at least that’s what it would any logical person would assume was a possibility. In actuality, it would be extremely difficult to pass, and then enforce, such a resolution, as we can see from the Somalia situation. In that instance, we saw what began as a mission solely to deliver aid to those suffering famine in the form of Operation: Restore Hope, and endorsed by the UN in Resolution 794. The endeavor quickly experienced mission creep, leading the Council to pass more and more resolutions on the issue before the whole effort ultimately collapsed. Any attempt to only handle one aspect of Syria will be done at risk of inflaming the ignored portions of the crisis.

Prognosis: Unlikely; there is no such thing as an apolitical resolution.

Wait:

The least appealing of options is to simply wait. The situation as it currently stands is sure to escalate, whether the international community intervenes or not. The Syrian government isn’t likely to have a sudden change of heart on the killing of its civilians, nor is the opposition like to turn the other cheek for much longer. The Free Syrian Army’s recruitment efforts have surely raised following the failure of the Morocco draft in the Security Council, and many are clamoring that now is the time for states who support democracy or the protestors or both to send arms to support the FSA. I’m rather sure that Turkey’s implicit hosting of the FSA won’t be tolerated for much longer by Assad, nor will the FSA wait for the Syrian National Council to get its act together before escalating attacks. An increase in arms, lacking accountability measures, will further wreak havoc on the region, particularly should the FSA be unable to control copycat organizations.

At present, the refugee situation, while certainly bad, is not a tidal wave; there are currently over 6,000 refugees registered in Lebanon and 7,500 in Turkey. An increase in attacks and the onset of civil war will certainly change that. As we saw in the midst of the Kosovo situation in the late 1990s, neighboring states’ destabilization from refugee inflow and harboring of resistance fighters, in that case Albania and Croatia, in this Turkey and Lebanon, will prove the impetus for more concerted action on Syria. This matter won’t be fully disappearing from the agenda of the UN Security Council anytime soon.

Prognosis: The most likely of options. We’ll be hearing about Syria in the UNSC more in coming months.

In summation, at least some options exist for next steps for the United Nations on Syria’s crisis. Many of them have components that are necessary to their success that I don’t believe exist at present. But the options still exist, and I wouldn’t fault Member States or the Secretariat for pushing forward with any of these. It’s easy to stand back, as I do, and critique; much harder to actually press for a deal. I still believe that no matter the course of action that is taken, the last of the options is what will wind up coming to fruition. Turkish and American calls for a Coalition of states, including non-permanent Security Council members, the Arab League’s members, and others, to deal with Syria outside the auspices of the United Nations are gaining traction. In the event the crisis worsens, however, the UN should be ready to step back in.

February 4, 2012

Et tu, People’s Republic? Et tu?

I have coverage of this morning’s Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria up at UN Dispatch. If you’ve been paying attention to my last few posts here on how Syria is faring at the UN Security Council, you’ll know that the Russian veto came as no surprise to me. A disappointment, yes. But not a surprise. China on the other hand managed to surprise the hell out of me. When I first began hearing rumors of a double veto, I was definitely shocked. The meme that’s existed since the People’s Republic took over the seat from Taiwan, that China will likely abstain on a draft where it the situation is not in China’s backyard and doesn’t authorize force over the will of the state in question rather than veto, may finally be dead.

The reasons why Russia opposed this resolution are known to be numerous, legion even, mostly based around its arms sales and the use of its naval base at Tartus. China’s motivation for vetoing the resolution was overlooked entirely this week. Throughout the last several days of negotiations, not a peep was said about China having substantive issues with the draft. Not one journalist picked up rumors that Li Baodong’s vote would be anything other than an abstention, or if they did I missed the article. I don’t fault them though, as even the United Kingdom’s Mission was completely without warning:

Yes, we were surprised by the Chinese veto, particularly as they did not express any particular concerns about the text over several days of negotiations. So we thought that they were able to accept the text that was put into blue by the Moroccans.

China’s choice to make its strong opposition to the draft public strikes me as odd. A China who abstains on this draft while Russia vetoes would have the exact same outcome without the public grief that Russia would have gotten. China’s objections would never come to fruition as Russia had already tanked its chances of passing. Why is Beijing inviting bad publicity in the Arab World at a time when ties were beginning to strengthen?

There are two reasons I can think of for China to choice to cast a veto rather than abstaining: the first, that Russia was in the end wavering unless it had support in vetoing, which would forced China to come out against, lest provisions in the document China didn’t accept passed through unopposed. Given Ambassador Churkin’s attempts to amend the text in the minutes leading up to the vote, I doubt this would be the case.

The second is that China is sending a message to members of the Arab World that are less sure about Qatar and the Arab League”s new policies: “We won’t come for you next”. If and when new protests rise up, requiring the members of the GCC to use enough force that the issue makes it to the Security Council, China would veto intervention and continue arms sales. Given how cynical I feel right now, this seems more likely to me, but it still doesn’t square with China’s usual affirmation of the usefulness of regional bodies in solving regional issues. The main reason everyone expected China to abstain was that the request and basic structure of the draft came from and supported the League of Arab States.

No matter what the reason behind it, China seems to be getting less blame than Russia over this, by far. Still, I get the feeling China has likely miscalculated. Things are going to get worse in Syria before they get better. And should Assad fall, as the many new members of the Free Syrian army recruited based on this veto will strive for, the new government will remember who helped keep Bashar in power. Even if the Arab League plan is somehow implemented, the new members of the unity government will still need someone to blame; China has graciously volunteered to keep Russia company in this regard.

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