x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

UNSC states put history ahead of Syrians' welfare

In hindsight, it was optimistic that western powers and the Arab League expected Russia and China to turn against their ally Syria.

It would be tempting to view the Russian-Chinese veto of the latest UN Security Council resolution on Syria as a failure of international leadership. And in truth, we agree with the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, who condemned the votes by Beijing and Moscow as "shameful" in light of the indiscriminate killings in Homs in recent days.

Perhaps it was a mistake to place too much hope in Syria's staunchest Cold War allies. Rather than dwell on this week's Security Council failure, Syria's opposition and its supporters must learn from the past and apply these lessons going forward.

Soviet ties to Damascus predate the Baath regime that came to power in 1963. In some ways, the current alignment on Syria (not to mention the UN Security Council itself) is a relic of the Cold War. In the 1950s, Damascus signed defence deals with Moscow, which are reflected in present-day arms sales to the Assad regime. It also recognised Beijing's Communist government.

Given those longstanding ties, it was optimistic that western powers and the Arab League had hoped to pry these allies away from Syria. With their own human rights issues at home, both Russia and China are always reluctant to condemn dictators abroad. Last year's UN Security Council resolution regarding the Qaddafi regime was an exception, not the rule.

But history is not a one-sided story. Ms Rice's disgust with Russia and China, although consistent with US policy on Syria, rang somewhat hollow considering how many times the United States has let Palestinians down in favour of Israel at the United Nations. Moscow may have sided with a brutal regime, but Washington has weakened its own hand over decades of biased dealings with Arab states.

If Saturday's vote proved anything, it was that new players are needed in the Syria crisis, players that do not put their own Cold War-era interests before those of the Syrian people. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is visiting Damascus tomorrow, promising to urge "rapid democratic reforms", but Moscow's will to lead a breakthrough for peace seems a dim hope, if it ever existed.

Syrians cannot afford to wait out these long arcs of history, and the victims of Homs are now more important than habits born of old alliances. Rather than wait for major powers to unload their baggage, Syrian's friends need solutions closer to home.

The unity of the Syrian opposition, backed by the strong support of the Arab League, is now the country's best hope. If Washington and Paris, or even Moscow and Beijing, can lend assistance, fine. But it is Syrians and their regional allies who will have to break this deadlock.