Russia and China are required today to establish a clear strategic framework for their policies, one that goes beyond merely allowing the Security Council resolution on Libya to be passed, or preventing additional measures against Iran, refraining from pursuing an active role over the Arab-Israeli conflict, and encouraging impunity for their traditional allies such as Syria. Along with the United States, Britain and France, both Russia and China are permanent members of the UN Security Council. This involves privileges as well as duties to safeguard world peace and security. If the UN Charter and its traditions are any reference in this regard, none of the five permanent members is supposed to hide behind abstention from voting or refrain from playing their leading roles at the global level. Washington, London and Paris are seeking policies that are responsive to the change brought about by the Arab Spring, even if they are still far from defining a clear strategy to govern their policies and continue to be hesitant even in terms of their own commitments. While the three Western powers indeed suffer from double standards on several issues, they are not in a state of abstention such as the one Russia and China hide behind today. Instead, the three Western countries purport that they have heeded the calls of Arab peoples, and are thus in the process of replacing their policies, hitherto based on exclusive partnerships with governments, with policies based on partnerships with peoples as well. By contrast, the two Asian countries, both with communist ideology figuring highly in their backgrounds, have been claiming that partnerships with people are the main basis for their policies. This is despite the fact that their relations with governments are in effect based on economic, strategic and oil interests, not unlike Western countries in this regard. But today, the Middle East is daring Russia and China to clarify the features of their strategic policies, both on the short and long terms, in light of the change as well as in its wake.
There are many issues on the table, and they are not restricted to the two countries' involvement in the issue of Iran, in particular with regard to its nuclear ambitions, for example. The relationship between the Gulf countries and Iran is in fact going through one of its worst and most dangerous phases. For this reason, the stances taken by the five permanent members of the Security Council on Iran are of the utmost importance, and must therefore be clearly set out and revised in light of developments in the region.
This is also the case when it comes to the uprisings of Arab people against the regimes that have been oppressing them, and that have chosen to confront these uprisings with further repression instead of reform. True, Russia and China have allowed previous Security Council resolutions on Libya to pass, and this was overwhelmingly welcomed. But the two countries backtracked on their stances after that, or became terribly silent.
With this, questions began to arise over whether the Russian and Chinese leaderships have chosen to foster the pre-Arab-Spring status quo ante in places like Iran, Yemen, Syria, and perhaps even Libya -- in other words, against people and their aspirations, in support of repression to avert change.
Previous policies of Russia and China led in the past to encouraging intransigence, as a result of which blatant mistakes were committed and entire countries were destroyed. The most patent example of this was their stances vis-à-vis the defiance shown by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, triggered by arrogance and by putting the regime above the country itself.
Instead of enlightening and advising its friends on the costs and consequences of their positions, Russia -- with its silent partner, China -- pursued what they found to be in their interests, all this while effectively misleading the Iraqi president into sacrificing Iraq on the altar of deception, arrogant defiance and sheer miscalculation.
This took place several years before the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. While Russia and China did indeed deny the George W. Bush administration the legitimacy of using military force in Iraq, they were not alone in this. To the same extent, it was also elected members of the Security Council that denied the U.S. such legitimacy, as the draft resolution did not obtain the support of the nine votes required to pass any resolution.
Russia and China then nearly repeated the same mistake regarding Iran, but then President Barack Obama came up with a strategy on Iran that resembled their own: Entice Iran with the carrots of incentives and rewards, whilst threatening it with a somewhat skewed stick. As a result, the U.S. president was able to accomplish one of his greatest achievements by far, that of getting unanimous support from the five permanent members of the Security Council for a unified strategy over Iran.
But this strategy is still teetering at the rhythm dictated by Iran, in spite of the sanctions. Even the crackdown by the authorities on the reformists and civilians, who had come out in peaceful protests, met with little condemnation. The five permanent members remain still in a state of irresolution, albeit at varying degrees.
But it is Russia and China that are primarily behind the scare-tactic threatening that consensus over Iran would vanish, should the Western countries step-up their pressures on Tehran. In practice, they are on the regime's side then, and are against aspirations for reform and change.
Silence over Iran's meddling in neighboring Arab countries and beyond is also proof of the Russian-Chinese partnership against peoples, sometimes against the sovereignty of the countries in question. Iraq is a living example of Iranian meddling. But perhaps Russia and China believe this to be what the U.S. and Britain have deservedly reaped by invading and occupying Iraq, only to hand it over to Iranian hegemony.
Equally, Iran plays a direct role in Lebanon through funding and arming and practically establishing a military base for Hezbollah, undermining the sovereignty of the Lebanese State. Yet, the stances adopted by Western permanent members in the Security Council in this regard, almost converge with those of Russia and China, with the exception of the recent move made by Washington.
As regards China, it adopts a policy of indifference on the Lebanese issue, and also the Syrian issue, while also leaving Russia in the driver's seat in what concerns Iran. This is while Russia has purported that its support for Hezbollah is in line with opposing Israeli violations and breaches of Lebanese sovereignty, at a time when Russia should have stood unequivocally with the sovereignty of the Lebanese State, regardless of whether violations are perpetrated by Israel, or Syria, Iran or Hezbollah itself.
In addition, the positions of Russia, as those taken by France, on Syria and Iran, have arguably contributed to the excesses exhibited by the two regimes in violating Lebanese sovereignty. As for Britain, its stance is one of refraining from getting involved in the Lebanese issue, as if the county were "too small" to warrant its concern.
This week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released an important report, in terms of both its significance and implications. This report should get the five countries to pay heed to its conclusions and follow it up with preemptive measures before it becomes too late.
The report states that the winds of change blowing across the Arab region should not blind us to the grave danger looming over Lebanon. According to the report, the international community and the regional order should perform their duties in order to safeguard peace and security, not just in Lebanon, but also in the region as a whole.
Ban Ki-moon also called for concerted efforts to disarm all militias in Lebanon, including both the Palestinian factions aligned with Damascus and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. While he said that disarming them through a political process was the best approach, he stressed that this would not be possible without Syrian and Iranian involvement.
But neither Syria nor Iran would take such a step willingly, nor would they respond to this favorably as long as they do not see Russia and China resolved and insistent on stropping the two regimes from arming these groups.
Russia and China must make clear whether they are willing work towards a consensus with the other permanent members of the Security Council to adopt a resolution with tangible measures. They must do this because their permanent membership in the Security Council requires them to safeguard world peace and security.
Similarly, with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is unacceptable for China to continue with its lack of involvement in this issue, as much as it is unacceptable for Russia to continue pretending it is indeed involved. At this juncture, the choice is between preparing for either a major breakthrough in the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel, or a dangerous relapse in this process.
It is thus Russia's duty to play a leading role today, just like Britain and France as representatives of the EU, and particularly since Russia, the EU, the UN and the U.S. are members of the Quarter for Peace in the Middle East.
The U.S. president appears to be stuck between two options: On the one hand, taking cosmetic measures in order to discourage the Palestinian Authority from demanding, as it pledged, the UN to recognize the Palestinian State. And on the other hand, taking a bold initiative whereby he would set out clear U.S. targets for the outcomes of the negotiations, instead of going on with the peace process merely for the sake of a "process."
He needs radical and serious action from Russia and Europe that would back him in taking a courageous and bold initiative beyond mere cosmetic measures that would inevitably backfire. Achieving real peace on the basis of the two-state solution in not only in American's interest, but also lies at the very heart of world peace and security.
But achieving peace also requires parallel peace between Syria and Israel, on the basis of Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights, as agreed upon under Yitzhak Rabin before Ehud Barak retracted the agreement. Here, too, the time has come for an active role by Europe and Russia, not just the United States.
Yet, the issue of continued Israeli occupation of the Golan or making peace between Syria and Israel are not the only responsibilities that the five permanent members of the Security Council are required to shoulder.
Protesters in Damascus demanding either freedom or regime change are subject to repression similar to the repression suffered by the Libyans at the start of their uprising. It is unacceptable for the five permanent members of the Security Council to continue to pretend that this is none of their business.
Western countries in particular appear to be willing to turn a blind eye when it comes to the regime in Syria, under the pretext that the Arab League did not make a move on the Syrian issue, as it did on Libya when it mobilized the support of the Security Council for taking measures.
The Libyan people have certainly merited universal recognition of their courage to rise against the regime, having been repressed, subdued and scared into submission. Similarly, the Syrian people certainly deserve universal support for their courage to rise against their regime as well, having been forced into submission through violence, bullets and intimidation.
Ban Ki-moon is right in saying that "the culture of intimidation" through weapons constitutes a human rights violation -- whether it is perpetrated at the hands of militias or regimes -- and that the international community must put an end to it.
Indeed, people are rising against fear and intimidation. It is high time for the major powers to have the boldness to carry out their duties instead of yielding to fear and submitting to intimidation.
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