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Raghida Dergham Headshot

The International 'Defiant' Camp and the Questions of Libya and Syria

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New York - It is not clear whether Russian policy has reached such a colossal extent of confusion, denial and duplicity as it is manifesting in the Arab region, or whether Russia's leadership has a covert strategy through which it perceives things differently from the rest of the world. Even in terms of Russia's national interests, the stances it is taking seem random and arbitrary. This in fact does not befit a major power that has privileges and commitments, as a country that holds the veto right at the Security Council and as a country that has a duty to preserve world peace and security. Russia is investing in the past on both the issues of Libya and Syria, and is risking losing the opportunity to invest in the future. This is not just in terms of trade agreements and so forth, but also in terms of fundamental relations with a new generation of Arabs that will soon be in power, wherever the winds of the Arab Spring have blown.

For its part, China is walking in the same footsteps as Russia on the Arab scene, with some differences in terms of priorities and interests. It too is putting its long-term interests at risk, should it persist in policies that undercut the ambitions of future generation and take the side of the regimes that oppress their people. So perhaps it is that both nations -- Russia and China -- fear that the Arab Spring may reach their soil, especially its air of freedom and the unwavering resolve to attain it. Perhaps they fear the language of human rights too, and reject accountability for those who violate such rights, as accountability could one day reach their home countries as well. Yet at the end of the day, the loss suffered by Russia and China as a result of the Arab Spring will not be limited to people's resentment of their stances, which reveal the spuriousness of the claim that the major figures of communism, past and present, have placed peoples first on their list of priorities. Such a loss would encompass their vital interests as well, because compensating for the harm caused by Moscow and Beijing to the Arab awakening has cost many precious lives, especially in Syria.

While India has begun to realize the consequences of its stances at the Security Council on Libya and Syria, it is still essentially pining for the past and is thus hesitant to accept the future. In truth, India has a chance to rectify its position in the next few days as the current president of the Security Council and throughout August. The steps it is taking are slow, but it can correct its course and abandon hesitation in favor of decisive action that would influence the course taken by the Security Council. This way, India could truly help save lives instead of hesitating, something that otherwise comes at a high cost for the people of Libya and Syria equally. As for Lebanon, the next country to head the Security Council in September, this country has its sovereignty nearly suspended, by way of its 'exceptional circumstances' that either categorize it as subservient to Syria, or as a obviously feckless nation. This deprives Lebanon of the power to take clear stances -- prompting it resort to verbal "evasion" here or "obfuscation" there. All eyes are on Lebanon then, to see how it would combine its 'exceptional circumstances' with its duties as head of the Security Council, which indeed involves world peace and security, and not narrow political considerations or Lebanese-style one-upmanship.

The issue of Libya remains at the table in the Security Council, as well as at the United Nations General Secretariat and its relevant agencies. It remains on the table also in regional organizations, from the NATO to the Arab League. If the phase of conflict ends -- this is yet to take place -- post-conflict Libya will keep the Security Council very much preoccupied, albeit in a constructive manner. At this point, the member-states would stand together again, after having gone through disunity as a result of the NATO airstrikes, and some countries will probably try to compensate for their negative stances against the Libyan uprising.

Consider for instance Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, who had rallied together under the BRICs alliance and opposed NATO's military operations all while calling for the rehabilitation of Muammar Gaddafi's regime. This axis has taken upon itself to oppose any move at the Security Council with regards to Syria, on the grounds that this would result in the Libyan model being copied, in what is referred to as the "Libyan syndrome." In truth, this axis assumed that the Libyan uprising would eventually fail, and that Gaddafi would regain power. Some of the leaders of this axis expressed regret over granting the International Criminal Court (ICC) the power to prosecute those who have committed crimes against humanity. Some of them have turned the whole issue into one about a strategic operation by NATO, in complete disregard of the Libyan people, who truly managed to produce one surprise after another. There are also among the leaders of this axis those who are wagering on a collapse in security conditions in a post-Gaddafi Libya, in a way that would lead the people to lament the bygone regime.

But it would be much better for those countries to think in different terms and prepare a strategy by means of which they would embrace the people's revolution and build on their previous stances, which allowed for the principle of "shared responsibility" to protect civilians in Security Council resolutions to come into being for the first time ever. Of course, there will be those who perfectly remember Russia's outcry, the reservations voiced by India and Brazil, China's opposition and the shameful stances taken by South Africa. Nevertheless, if those countries -- or indeed some of them -- rush to congratulate the Security Council -- and themselves as a part of it -- for what it has achieved in Libya, perhaps this will prove to be a more sensible policy. Such a policy would possibly help others forget and overlook the negative aspects of these countries' stances. Yet this would certainly require radical change, not just with respect to Libya, but equally also with regard to Syria.

The quicker the international community acts today to end the conflict in Libya, the quicker it would be saving Libyan lives and paving the way for the kind of relations that would uphold mutual respect and interests equally. Here, the discourse that encourages Gaddafi to believe he is in a position that enables him to negotiate with the rebels over power -- such as the discourse espoused by Russia's president -- is but a dose of encouragement for Gaddafi to believe that he can resist, kill and use force in order to return to power. This is deception that costs lives. It is, in the best of cases, encouragement to partition Libya in such a way as to allow Gaddafi to control the Southern part of the country, thus keeping one third of it. As a matter of fact, it is incitement to vindictiveness that does not befit a major power.

The events of this week, meanwhile, have certainly undermined the credibility of the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the standing of its Chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, more than once, as a result of the mistakes made by Abdul Jalil himself. First, he made a mistake when he announced that two of Muammar Gaddafi's sons were in the hands of the rebels and under safe "guard." Then Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi appeared in public, with his smile and his self-confidence as a free man, to do away with a great deal of the credibility enjoyed by the rebels, Abdul Jalil and the NTC. This was a major mistake. The other mistake was the statement made by Abdul Jalil that those wanted through ICC arrest warrants on counts of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity -- Muammar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Senussi -- would be tried in Libya. Abdul Jalil has thereby done himself great harm, being a judge and a Supreme Court adviser. One must not rush to disregard UN resolutions and binding international warrants in this manner -- even before the NTC became a government. This shows that the NTC is very weak and that it is time to quickly find an alternative to it, in the form of a transitional government.

The other pleasant surprise is the Syrian people, who did not receive from the international community even a quarter of the support afforded to the Libyan people. Instead, it has met with "defiance," not just from Security Council members, but also from the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Nevertheless, things have begun to change, also as a result of sustained repression and the use of force by Syrian authorities, much more than as a result of vigilance by some countries or organizations.

The BRICs -- especially the IBSA countries, or India, Brazil and South Africa -- have the opportunity today to take on a positive role with regard to the Syrian issue, in lieu of the negative role that has characterized them as defiant countries priding themselves in blocking the discussion of the Syrian crisis at the Security Council. Those three countries can now play a positive role by influencing Russia and China, instead of having the latter rely on the defiance of IBSA. Here, the greater burden falls on the shoulders of the world's largest democracy, i.e. India, especially as it presides over the Council through its ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri.

India perfectly realizes that the regime in Damascus is bound to collapse, either through real, radical and sincere reforms, or as a result of its repression and use of force against anti-government protesters. It also realizes that the time for wagering on reform in Syria has passed, and that it is now too late for that. Thus, India is faced with a choice, either to sit back and see the end of the regime come through bloodshed, or take the initiative to hasten such an end and spare the country further carnage.

The draft resolution on sanctions put forward at the Security Council -- which is a precedent -- would impose sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the major figures of his regime. It also hints to the possibility of acting upon the recommendation made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to refer "the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court," after she concluded that the crimes being committed in Syria "may amount to crimes against humanity."

India could hasten the adoption of this resolution by taking stances within IBSA to influence Russia, as well as through its position as head of the Security Council. In this way, it could be active and influential, instead of being systematically fickle as it awaits Lebanon to inherit the responsibility and the burden of taking such a decision. India would thereby restore its leading democratic position and invalidate the impression that India is a democracy standing against the Arab people.

As for Lebanon, it must stop hiding behind its "exceptional circumstances" and act like a mature nation, and not the opposite. The issue of Libya could save Lebanon in its capacity as the president of the Security Council, since Lebanon had no problems with this issue, with the Lebanese Ambassador Nawaf Salam instead taking pride in having led the council. However, the issue of Syria could expose Lebanon, especially given that the way the Lebanese government is dealing with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) rather falls under obfuscation that undermines justice.

RaghidaDergham.Com