Posts tagged ‘russia’

January 30, 2012

UNSC approval is vital to the use of force – True or False?

On Talk of the Nation today, Anne-Marie Slaughter made the case that should Russia not allow the United Nations Security Council move forward on Syria, the world can act without them. More specifically, she laid out a further explanation of her Atlantic piece on Syrian intervention:

Fourth, the intervention would have to receive the authorization of a majority of the members of the UN Security Council — Russia, actively arming Assad, will probably never go along, no matter how necessary — as an exercise of the responsibility to protect doctrine, with clear limits to how and against whom force could be used built into the resolution.

During the NPR interview, according to Twitter, Slaughter clarified that a “supermajority” of states on the Council must vote in favor of intervention for the international community to act without a resolution in their favor due to the veto of a permanent member. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to listen to the interview yet, so I’m unsure about whether she was speaking in reference to the draft resolution currently on the table, as introduced by Morocco, or if she means a hypothetical resolution under Chapter VII.

No matter the context, I had trouble with this when she first published the article, and I’m having even more issues with it now. The backbone of Professor Slaughter’s argument, and that of other interventionists, is that action in Syria is required to support the developing norms of the international community, namely the Responsibility to Protect. The problem with this is that in promoting the advancement of this norm, it would seem that going around codified international law would be required to do so. I am most certainly not an international law expert, but it would seem to me that codified laws take precedence over norms, particularly when a great deal of weight has traditionally applied to the approval of the United Nations Security Council to take action.

Great Power politics are undeniably a mess, particularly in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. I’ve argued previously that I don’t believe that acting without the Security Council in practice is an ideal solution. Dodging the Council, though, would also prove to be a failure in principle as well. To actively say that a veto in the Security Council should be ignored seems to weaken the institution as a whole. Many of the same people advocating intervention in Syria screamed bloody murder over the Bush Administration launching strikes into Iraq without an authorizing resolution of the Security Council, due to the vetoes of France, Russia, and China. I should know, I was one of them. But the Bush White House at least had the slim thread of “upholding previous UNSC resolutions” as part of their justification. While nobody bought it, at least the effort was made, and it is true that several UNSC resolutions demanding that Saddam Hussein comply with international demands were passed in the past. Likewise, several chances were given to Milosevic’s Former Republic of Yugoslavia to adhere to the wishes of the Council and cease violence against its civilians; a true exhaustion of options building up to force existed. No such history exists against Syria in the Security Council.

It’s my opinion that if you’re going to say that the rules are bad and unfair, you should at least be consistent with it. The UN Security Council can’t be the end decision point in the use of force only in times where you agree with all 15 members’ views. Come out for a change of the rules governing the body wholesale, instead of claiming they can be circumvented in certain situations. There may well be a moral argument for intervening in Syria, but the idea that it’s any more legal to defy the Council in one situation or another doesn’t hold water. Either the UNSC is the final arbiter of international peace and security or it isn’t. And if it is, then the principles on which it was founded, as anachronistic as they may be in the 21st century are still worthy of consideration.

The fact remains that the veto is, as was devised by the Soviets as a condition for joining the UN in the first place, a tool to protect national interests. Well, at present, it is in Russia’s national interest to not have the West intervene in Syria. If, heaven forbid, the United States were to no longer be the sole superpower, we would certainly expect that in the case of a veto that action not be taken against our interests, a principle that was upheld at the height of the Cold War. I do approve of the idea of getting the Syrian National Council to guarantee Russia access to their current naval base in Syria even after Assad falls; it’s one of the few things keeping them from dropping Assad like a hot potato; Unfortunately, Vitaly Churkin’s threats to no longer protect Assad with the veto seems to have gone unheeded by Damascus, leaving Russia in a position where it may well do what it has hinted at in recent press statements.

I’m not entirely sure if there are even enough “aye” votes for the current draft at present in any case, let alone one authorizing force. The whip count may change after Tuesday’s briefing by the Arab League and the presence of several attendees at the ministerial level. But you can count on at least four abstentions, if not flat-out “no” votes. Is this ten the supermajority that Slaughter references? In any case, a “supermajority” of UNSC member states won’t be enough to override, particularly if the resolution tabled is the one that is up for discussion. The political factors on the table, including a peaceful transition to a unity government, can’t be enacted by force with any semblance of credibility in the face of a veto. Or can you only go around the Security Council when force is on the table? It may be a moot point, as with the lack of sanctions and military factors involved, there’s still a slim chance that Russia abstains, bringing China along with it. But in the event of a veto, the international community needs to decide whether the UNSC is the final arbiter on the use of force as it has long held or an obstacle to be overcome.

December 23, 2011

From Horseshoe Table to Cage Match: Rice v. Churkin in a diplomatic battle royale

It’s been a tough year on the Security Council. I mean that without a trace of irony. There have been several major decisions that have made their way to the Horseshoe Table, and the Council has been in almost constant session year-round it would seem. The last several weeks in particular have been fascinating for UN watchers as the US and Russian ambassadors have been going at each other with the gloves off. No holiday truce can be found between Susan Rice and Vitaly Churkin in Turtle Bay, not this year.

Things first started to heat up earlier this month, in a dispute over whether the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, would be allowed to brief the Council on human rights abuses in Syria at France’s request. Russia and China at first demurred from the proposal, before determining that if Pillay was going to brief under the topic “The Situation in the Middle East”, as this was official issue on the Agenda under which Syria was being discussed, that human rights concerns in Palestine would also have to be addressed:

An hour after Inner City Press first reported the proposal, Russian Ambssador Vitaly Churkin emerged to read a short Council statement. He explained that Pillay’s briefing Monday at 3 pm on “the Middle East” is understood to include Palestine as well as Syria.

Inner City Press asked Churkin if the briefing would be closed, and if Pillay would be questioned about Palestine. Churkin said he expected Pillay would hear what he was saying and that, yes, the briefing would be closed.

He said with a smile that at one point Russia proposed the briefing be open, but that those who had initially wanted it open then decided that it should be closed.

Russia and China eventually discarded their demand, but not before Russia nearly forced a procedural vote on the matter, a highly unusual move for allowing a UN official to brief the UNSC.

Things have come to a head in recent days. This week,  The New York Times released an article indicating that NATO’s claims of no civilian casualties as a result of its bombing campaign in Libya were exaggerated; rather than zero, the death toll as a result of NATO’s assault on Col Qaddafi may have cost the lives of between forty and seventy Libyans. Russia has been pounding NATO for overstepping the bounds of SC/1973 since the bombing campaign was launched, so this was quickly seized as an early Christmas present. At a press stakeout yesterday, Ambassador Churkin let the reporters present know that Russia felt a Council-mandated investigation was in order to determine the extent of damage wrought by NATO.

Ambassador Rice was having none of this:

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who stepped to the microphone after Churkin, said: “Oh, the bombast and bogus claims.”

“Is everyone sufficiently distracted from Syria now and the killing that is happening before our very eyes?” she said.

“I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that this is something of a cheap stunt to divert attention from other issues and to obscure the success of NATO and its partners — and indeed the Security Council — in protecting the people of Libya,” Rice said.

Harsh words? Maybe not on the streets surrounding UN Headquarters, but far sharper than you normally hear outside the Council’s chambers. That tension has simmered over into today, during discussion on a potential Presidential Statement on the League of Arab States’ deployment of monitors to Syria. Normally, such a statement, while requiring unanimity, would not have been difficult to produce. Instead, this afternoon Ambassador Churkin told the press that no statement would be coming. When asked about the dust-up yesterday, Churkin responded:

“We hear that the Obama administration wants to establish a dialogue with the international community in the United Nations, and in the Security Council. If that is to be the case, if this is the intention, really this Stanford dictionary of expletives must be replaced by something more Victorian, because certainly this is not the language in which we intend to discuss matters with our partners in the Security Council.”

Shots. Fired.

Vitaly Churkin: Grinch
Diplomatic? Not really. But impressive Photoshop skills

In retaliation for the frustrating lack of progress on Syria, Mark Kornblau, the Communications Director and head spokesman for the US Mission to the UN, used his previously underutilized Photoshop skills, or those of an intern, to produce an image of Ambassador Churkin cast as The Grinch. Mr. Kornblau then post the image to his personal Twitter account. While I personally found it amusing, I somehow doubt that the Russian Mission will agree.

While less than diplomatic on its forefront, I actually believe that the Security Council is, even in this context, performing one of its most vital functions: a pressure release. The Great Powers that make up the P-5 have this one place where they can all sit together as equals and discuss all matters of international peace and security. Without the Council, as David Bosco argues in his excellent book “Five to Rule Them All”, that ability to come together and air grievances, as is fitting on today as it is Festivus, the likelihood of direct Great Power conflict would have been and would be much higher.

From January 1 until today, the UNSC has struggled to bring together its fifteen members into some semblance of accord on matters of peace and security on even more and greater issues than normal. Tensions get especially tough when you factor in the P-5 and their veto power. But at least they’re talking to each other rather than slugging it out somewhere. So you can’t blame them for getting a little…punchy as the year winds down.

December 14, 2011

“I dare you to cross this line. I double dare you”: Turkey, Syria, and NATO

Syria is in no way resembling a nation on the mend. As the days go by, Assad’s determination to stay in power remains clear, as does the growing desire of his people to ensure that doesn’t happen. By any means necessary. This morning’s retaliatory strike against a Syrian armed forces convoy for an earlier incident involving the death of several protesters proves that point quite effectively.

Turkey, once Syria’s ally in the region, has turned its back on the Assad regime, protesting its wanton killing of civilians and placing sanctions on the state, alongside those imposed by the United States, European Union, and Arab League. Turkey also has constructed several refugee camps for the thousands of Syrians who have fled across the border. More likely than not, the Turkish government is also providing refuge for members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a collection of defected Syrian security forces, who are the probable launchers of this morning’s attack.

The stream of refugees into Turkey has the potential to be a destabilizing factor in the region, a threat to international peace and security that the Security Council has often invoked since the 1990s as the basis for acting under Chapters VI and/or VII of the Charter, exercising its power to restore the peace. In the Syrian case, however, Syria has the backing of the Russian Federation, despite growing pressure on Moscow to give up on Damascus, with Russia sure to veto any real action.

Syria has yet to take action against Turkey for hosting these refugees. But suppose Turkey keeps hosting these refugees and the FSA. What happens when an FSA member crosses back across the border into Turkey, with Syria in hot pursuit? What happens when, not if, Syria decides to attack a refugee camp in retaliation? Syria has already come close, coming within a quarter-mile of the border in June.

This could be the endgame that we see for Syria. The second, the absolute second, that Syrian security forces violate Turkish sovereignty, whether they actually engage with Turkish soldiers or not, it’s game over for Assad. Any hesitancy of the international community would be overturned, lest a greater crisis come about.

Turkey could invoke Article 51 of the UN Charter. And in turn would be able to invoke Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty.

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

And from there all the pieces interventionists have wanted to be able to aid civilians in Syria before civil war spirals out of control would be in place. No need to invoke the Responsibility to Protect, though the principles would still be at play and understood. No circumvention of the UN Charter would be required, unlike NATO’s actions in Kosovo in 1999. Article VIII clearly provides for collective security and defense arrangements, such as NATO. And Article V of the North Atlantic Charter mirrors the language involved in Chapter VIII of the UN Charter as action must halt once the Security Council has moved forward on the issue.

So far, the only instance of Article V actually being called upon was in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Turkey has threatened in the past to use the Article to demand action, particularly against Iraq should Turkey have come under attack in the instances of the Gulf and Iraq Wars.

Refusal of a formal invoking on Article V, particularly after an incursion has taken place onto a members soil, would be the exact sort of crisis that opponents of Georgia’s ascension into NATO fear. But in this instance, Turkey has been a loyal member of NATO since 1949; despite official statements declaring that NATO has no intention on intervening in Syria, the body would have to act or risk facing a true existential crisis greater than the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO’s collective power, without the mandate of SC/1970 to keep ground forces out of combat, would be effective in bringing about an end to Assad.

Turkish armed forces are no slouch themselves, either. Should Turkey actually enter conflict against Syria, the results wouldn’t be overly lopsided, but Turkey would most likely be able to overpower Syria. The campaign would take far longer without NATO support and capabilities, however, and the longer a military operation lasts the greater the likelihood of civilian deaths in the form of collateral damage. There’s also the potential of a “rally around the flag” effect coming into play, though the Libyan example makes me think this is less likely.

France has seemed the most eager out of the NATO heavyweights to take action against Syria, but has ruled out the possibility of unilateral action by any members. Give Sarkozy the opening of a multilateral framework and legal course of action, though, and he will surely move to take action; France has a certain soft spot for intervention in former territories and protectorates, and Syria is no exception. The US and UK would hesitate, but eventually move forward. The Obama Administration doesn’t want to be seen as leading from behind again in an election year, and the overturn of the Assad government fits within stated US goals. The UK would most likely lend support as possible, potentially spinning it as proof that it is less isolated from Europe than many have claimed following last week’s EU Summit.

Further, it is in my belief that an actual launch of military operations wouldn’t be necessary to have actual action take place on Syria finally. Should Turkey invoke Article V, Russia would surely raise the issue in the UN Security Council, with all its normal bluster and condemnation of NATO actions. It would be well within the means of the Western members of the P-5 to offer that Turkey stand down its actions, provided Russia go along with Security Council action on the matter, short of actual military force. This would allow Russia to save face on the region, rather than being faced with the humiliation of NATO carrying out action despite its less than subtle warnings over the past weeks and months, and ensure that the Security Council’s primacy on matters of peace and security be asserted over NATO, a goal Russia often quoted in protesting the Kosovo intervention.

I am aware that I come dangerously close to Friedman-ing in this post, here defined as imposing an overly neat and idealistic hypothetical solution to a complex real-world problem. However, this is a scenario that, while not likely, does fall within the realm of possibility. Further, I think it’s worth at least considering, as I’ve seen nobody else mention it, which is odd when you take into account the high likelihood of Syrian cross-border retaliation. The endgame described here probably isn’t the one we’re going to see play out in Syria. But it would certainly cut through a lot of the issues preventing intervention.

December 7, 2011

“I’m sorry, Mahmoud, I don’t have a nuke in my sack, but how about a nice drone?” – Santa

I’m still feeling like I’m a good day or two behind the rest of the world when it comes to what’s going on out there, so forgive me if this seems dated already. But I couldn’t not comment on the downed drone in Iranian territory. Like most people, when I first saw the news, I figured it was a complete fabrication by the Iranian press. When confirmation came out from the US government that we did, in fact, lose a spy plane in or near Iranian airspace, I was more than a little surprised.

Like most things in life, the idea that we could lose a nearly intact drone to Iran is one of those things that seems too ridiculous to be true until it actually happens. As of the time of this writing, the buzz seems to have died down some surrounding the issue, so it may be that the whole thing is for naught. In any case, it appears to me that if all the reports that we’ve seen so far are true, which is also a big if, then the situation is bad, but not dire, with many more “it could be worse” points than actual “oh god why”.

The good news: The initial reports coming out of Iran involved claims that the Iranian military used a sophisticated cyberattack to down the drone. Fact: There is no way that a cyberattack is what actually led to the downing of the craft. Despite a report earlier this year about a virus that has spread through the drone fleet, Iran’s electronic warfare capability is in no way capable of hacking into the controls of a drone and forcing it to land. James Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies put it succinctly:

“Iran hacking into the drone is as likely as an Ayatollah standing on a mountain-top and using thought waves to bring it down,” Lewis, a former Reagan administration official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Yahoo News by email Monday. “The most likely explanation is that it crashed on its own.”

“If you could hack into a drone, you wouldn’t use it for some spontaneous fun, you’d save it for a rainy day,” Lewis continued. “You’d need to be able to hack either the control network in the U.S. or a satellite.  Neither is easy, and both are probably not something the Iranians can do.”

Better news: We didn’t risk going in after it. Initially, Iran most likely didn’t know about the crash and probably didn’t for sometime, as evidenced by the fact that their acquisition was revealed almost a week after it was lost in the first place. But the Wall Street Journal reports that though we considered recovery, the US ultimately opted against, as the risks of adding fuel to the fire far outweighed a recovery of the technology:

Under one plan, a team would be sent to retrieve the aircraft. U.S. officials considered both sending in a team of American commandos based in Afghanistan as well as using allied agents inside Iran to hunt down the downed aircraft.

Another option would have had a team sneak in to blow up the remaining pieces of the drone. A third option would have been to destroy the wreckage with an airstrike.

However, the officials worried that any option for retrieving or destroying the drone would have risked discovery by Iran.

The fact remains as well that this is what drones were designed to be useful for. Had it been a manned surveillance aircraft, in the style of the spy plane that went down over China in 2001, we would have had a much larger problem on our hands, with either a dead airman or a captive of the IRGC to deal with. Despite acknowledging that we did not attempt to go in after the drone, there will be those who say the contrary. For example, at the Aviationist blog, a reader has posted this following theory:

“Temporary loss of satellite connection is common and the drone will orbit on a preplanned route until connection is re-established. If the connection is never re-established then the aircraft will eventually run out of fuel and crash. This can happen if the the encryption keys are invalidated during rollover and were not properly loaded (among other possibilities). Prior to fuel exhaustion, standard procedure is to perform classified data erase, followed by software data erase. A recovery team is supposed to follow up and secure it or blow it up.

In this case it appears the recovery team couldn’t find it.”

Oh my wow, does that make no sense. Suppose. Suppose for a half-second that we actually were prepared to send in a team, possibly deep into Iranian territory, to attempt to recover or destroy this drone. Why would such a team be put together and insert without knowing where the damn thing is? It may have just been commentary on what is SOP in other instances, but that wasn’t made clear by the reader’s comment. In any case, we stayed out of Iran, which is good, which means that any saber-rattling they bring up over violation of their airspace can be promptly ignored, as usual.

The best news: The RQ-170 Sentinel is aptly named. Unlike its Predator or Reaper brethren, it is designed to do one thing only: spy. The Predator and Reaper are further not stealthy in the least-bit, being propeller-powered; if the Sentinel really was a remote stealth bomber, this would be a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. There are no JDAMs loaded onto the Sentinel, nor would it be readily apparent from a review of the downed craft how to integrate a weapons system seamlessly into the frame given.

The bad news: Well, there’s a few bits of bad news here. The first is that this still amounts to a large loss by the US in terms of keeping secret technology out of the hands of adversaries. And while it is weaponless, the Sentinel does possess advanced communication-monitoring tech inside of its well-coated shell. The Pentagon is working hard to spin the fact that the RQ-170 is somewhat outdated as far as drone technology goes, but it still far outstrips anything that Iran could hope to develop on its own in the near future.

While there isn’t too much new to discover from the RQ-170, the fact remains that it is still a nearly intact specimen ripe for dissection, as far as has been revealed, despite a notable lack of photographic evidence from Tehran.  (Really, you’d think there’d be a shot of Ahmadinejad posing next to the thing by now.) It’s unlikely that Iran itself will be able to reverse-engineer it itself, so panicky worries about stealth surveillance drones flying from Tehran to Tel Aviv are extremely premature.  What is more likely is that Iran will take this opportunity to sell the drone to the highest bidder, likely in exchange for other non-monetary perks.

Which is to say there is no way that a new round of sanctions are forthcoming in the UN Security Council. The odds were already low, this development takes them to near absolute zero in terms of possibility. Russia and China are the states most likely to benefit from this, though it would be naive to assume that they weren’t aware of many of the broader information about the craft. But actually getting their hands on an intact version would be a huge gift, particularly to states that are known for their reverse-engineering capabilities. The PRC and Russian Federation were unlikely to support new sanctions on Iran in any case, but this is a bow on that little present.

In summation, while not great, it could be a lot worse. The whole affair amounts to a brand new top-secret iPhone 5 falling off the back of a truck on Dec 24th: it isn’t set to bring down the entity that lost it, but it’s more than a little annoying. So Merry Christmas, Ayatollah. It looks like it came a little early for you this year.

November 8, 2011

Memo to Richard Clarke: China does not have a “US Internet On/Off” switch

Gulliver, of the Inkspots blog, tweet earlier today an article published in the Boston Globe. In said article, Richard Clarke, also known as the Man Who Knew Too Much in the pre-September 11 days, predictor of the bin Laden attacks and ignored by the Administration, has a few recommendations about the readiness of our nation’s digital defenses. I was excited, until I saw the headline: Cyber weaknesses should deter US from waging war

…What.

Clarke said if he was advising the president he would warn against attacking other countries because so many of them — including China, North Korea, Iran and Russia — could retaliate by launching devastating cyberattacks that could destroy power grids, banking networks or transportation systems.

The U.S. military, he said, is entirely dependent on computer systems and could end up in a future conflict in which troops trot out onto a battlefield “and nothing works.”

Clarke said a good national security adviser would tell the president that the U.S. might be able to blow up a nuclear plant somewhere, or a terrorist training center somewhere, but a number of countries could strike back with a cyberattack and “the entire us economic system could be crashed in retaliation … because we can’t defend it today.”

“I really don’t know to what extent the weapon systems that have been developed over the last 10 years have been penetrated, to what extent the chips are compromised, to what extent the code is compromised,” Clarke said. “I can’t assure you that as you go to war with a cybersecurity-conscious, cybersecurity-capable enemy that any of our stuff is going to work.”

Oh my stars and garters. First of all, usual disclaimers that these are my personal opinions, not those of anyone I may be employed by. Now. Do I really need to explain to Mr. Clarke why his statement makes no sense? The use of computers has made our armed forces more mobile, agile, and accurate. It has not made them deadlier in my opinion. In fact, taking away the ability of our systems to, say, precisely pinpoint a target would probably be the dumbest thing an enemy could do. It’s not like we’ve lost the ability to just carpetbomb areas into submission, it’s just something that we honestly prefer not to do these days.

Also, it sounds like Mr. Clarke is vastly inflating the capabilities of the states he lists. Yes, China and Russia were called out recently for hacking into our systems to gain access to sensitive data for economic gain. But if you honestly think that there aren’t white hats on our side doing the same thing, then your dream world sounds like a lovely place to visit. Espionage is something that exists and always will exist so long as there are secrets that need to be protected. Why do you think we even have a Central Intelligence Agency?

But seriously. If the United States or one of our allies were to strike against an Iranian nuclear plant, which I am by the by not in favor of, I am extremely skeptical that Iran’s first thought will be “shut down the Interwebs in the U.S.” As Dan Trombly points out, Iran’s proxy capabilities are much more impressive than anything it has in the digital domain, and further, the entirety of the cybercapability we’ve seen from them has been in regards to domestic communication, not widespread hacking into infrastructure. China using it’s legion of “Netizen hackers” to counterbalance the offensive edge that we so clearly have on them would make sense and is the most credible of the states Clarke lists, but the PRC is light-years away from having that ability, no matter how lacking our defenses are.

Cyber-capabilities are impressive. Nobody is denying that fact. The hype around them though is stunning. I love science-fiction as much as the next person, and the future is in fact awesome as I find myself thinking every day. But the wild-mass guessing that goes into attempting to predict the full abilities that can and will be brought to bear in a conflict is more than a little ridiculous. The way that many writers and analysts put it, there’s a switch somewhere in various states that can be flipped in the event of war, where the various Trojan horses and malware on American systems can suddenly shut. down. everything. I can assure you that any use of cyberconflict in the coming years will look nothing like that. Disrupting communications, sending out false information and corrupting data, various levels of enhanced espionage, that’s what’s facing us, not preventing bombs from deploying or somehow crashing the US economy.

Further, this is a huge pet-peeve of mine, the acting like any instance of a cyber or digital attack would be completely beyond the conventional norms of warfare and that the US has absolutely no past models to draw on. Bull. Saying that we shouldn’t attack a country because they might retaliate against our digital infrastructure is akin to saying that we shouldn’t attack them because any of our assets may in turn be targeted. Which would make no sense, because that is how war is conducted: you strike, you attempt to block the oncoming counterstrike. If your defenses are lagging in one point? Then you build them up, but that doesn’t mean that your weakpoint completely negates your offensive capabilities. There are plenty of reasons to not launch a military strike, but concern over our computer networks is not one of them. Mr. Clarke needs to take it down a notch; advocating for more robust defense is fine, but hyperbole just weakens your arguments.

August 30, 2011

The More Things Change: China and Russia in the UNSC

The UN Security Council bears marked similarities to the US Senate at times. The veto and the filibuster are both tools its respective insitution is known for, and which its users are loathe to give up. Both also have evolved over time, to where they are actually used very little. Instead, the threat of using one is enough to give pause before moving forward with draft resolutions or legislation.

When it comes to veto threats, the Russian Federation and China have made an art of the practice. Every draft resolution that comes before the UNSC faces a veto threat should it go too far, too fast for the Russians and Chinese. This isn’t to say that the United States, United Kingdom and France don’t make threats of their own, indeed the US holds the record for most vetoes since 1991, but they also put forward the majority of progressive drafts, often anathema to the BRICS countries.

It’s surprising to note, then, that Russia and China have in fact been authors of draft resolutions before the Council as of late. Last week, the Russian Mission to the UN introduced its own draft resolution on the situation in Syria. In June, China and the United States worked together on halting the conflict in the Abeyi region of Sudan to produce what would become SC/1990. Could these moves be seen as a shift towards a more proactive strategy at the UN Security Council?

While intriguing, the Syria resolution doesn’t seem to offer up a substantial shift in Russian strategy at the UN. The text itself is balanced to the point of absurdity, seeming to lay the violence at the feet of both the protesters and the al-Bashar government. This sort of ‘sovereignty first’ approach to matters is what is to be expected when Russia actually decided to attempt to head off interventions in what it sees as internal matters.

By presenting this draft, the Russian government can then point back to its attempts at peacebuilding when faced with a much stronger Western-backed resolution like the one offered by the UK and France in June. The draft also has the undertone that Russia is still seeking to be a player in the Middle East beyond its role in the Quartet, as its attempts to mediate in Libya showed.

Don’t forget that Chapter VIII, dealing with regional arrangements, was written by the Soviet Union to allow for action outside the scope of the United Nations. The Commonwealth of Independent states and, at least in part, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization , were developed for this very goal, providing the ability to act in the backyard interests that Russia holds so dear. Even after the embarrassing denial of SCO backing during the 2008 Georgian conflict, these organizations allow for action in the form of multilateral efforts and thus supporting Russia’s position pushing a rule of law-based multipolar world. Any future drafts proposed by the Russian Federation will seek to blame neither party for the issues under discussion or lean firmly on whichever side supports Russia.

China, on the other hand, presents a much more challenging analysis. Russia and China are often on the same side of the many issues that are presented before the UNSC, not because of any lasting ties or fear of Western oppression, but because they truly believe that many internal matters should remain so. Since the fall of the Soviet Union two vetoes issued by China have been tandem with Russia, in 2007 against a draft resolution on Myanmar and in 2008 against a draft on the situation in Zimbabwe. The only two other vetoes, both solo efforts, were against a six-month renewal of the United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP) in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 1999 and in 1997 against a draft on Central American stability. Neither were particularly world-shattering votes, taken not out of a pressing national interest by Beijing but rather to prove a point about non-intervention.

In the Abeyi resolution, however, we see a departure from the Russian modus operandi, in not only calling for a cessation of violence, but calling for an interim peacekeeping for to enforce it. Rather than preserving neutrality by allowing Sudan and South Sudan to negotiate among themselves, China support and helped draft language calling on the international community to help. While not a drastic shift in policy, it does go further than many would have expected of the PRC.

The Chinese instance of taking part in the drafting of the Abeyi resolution in and of itself is not the harbinger of a more progressive stance and strategy in the UNSC. If the Chinese government wants to be a true player on the world stage, though, it could serve as a starting point. Rather than relying on the status quo or to act as a shield or veneer against encroachment, China could use the Security Council much in the same way that the West does, as an instrument in which to push an agenda. This isn’t to say that such an agenda would be interventionist in nature or change China’s policy towards sovereignty. Rather, what we could see in the future is a China that works to build coalitions to pass resolutions rather than prevent them.

Such a day isn’t anytime near at hand, however. For the near future, China will continue to use the United Nations as a way to keep the status quo in place long enough to ensure it has the room necessary for its peaceful rise while doing its most important diplomatic maneuvering bilaterally and in smaller regional bodies, while Russia does much the same in hopes of recovering and holding onto its Great Power status. For the near future, Russia and China will be erstwhile allies in the Security Council, keeping those around the horseshoe table from enacting too much change too quickly. I can certainly say this: the day that China decides to shift to being the instigator is going to be an interesting day on Turtle Bay indeed.