Syria is slipping further into chaos. It’s sad to think that the Security Council has been debating the situation there for almost half a year to no effect. Or, to be more accurate, the only effect has been to make lots of diplomats very unhappy, as I explain in the new edition of Pragati:
It’s hard to find a happy diplomat at the United Nations Security Council these days. Western officials grumble about the difficulty of negotiating with India, Brazil and South Africa (the IBSA countries) over the Syrian crisis, to say nothing of China and Russia. The non-Western powers, they suspect, are all plotting to frustrate the U.S. and Europe.
Piffle, reply the supposed plotters. The bleak mood in the Council is a result of the West’s distortion of the UN mandate to protect civilians in Libya. If NATO hadn’t used that as a basis for regime change, there might be real cooperation over Syria. Even the unhappiest European officials accept that other powers’ anger over Libya is genuine.
Does anyone gain anything from the stalemate? Russia arguably does. Earlier in the year it failed to halt Western interventions in not only Libya but also Côte d’Ivoire. As Russia’s main claim to leverage at the UN is its willingness to act as a spoiler, these set-backs made it look a shadow of itself. On Syria, its blocking power returned as it resisted – and in October vetoed – EU and US efforts to pass a resolution sanctioning Syria.
For China, the benefits have been less clear, as it prefers to look pragmatic on the Security Council. Nonetheless it felt obliged to side with Russia over Syria. But the real losers have been the IBSA countries, which have often looked trapped between the West and the Russo-Chinese axis as they have tried to respond to events in the Middle East.
But at least IBSA has emerged as a semi-credible diplomatic force in UN affairs, right? I’m not so sure:
The fact that IBSA voted as a bloc can be interpreted as a success – it is generally recognised that the trio of powers have been significant swing voters in the Security Council this year. But this may only be a temporary phenomenon. Brazil is approaching the end of its two-year term on the Council, and South Africa continues to have a greater stake in acting as the leader of the African bloc than in aligning with India. IBSA’s brief moment of importance in the Council could soon be forgotten, and India’s leverage duly reduced.