Russia and China may have acted rashly in vetoing a sharply worded draft United Nations Security Council Resolution on Syria but the United States, France and Britain – who have reacted with predictable fury — cannot escape their responsibility for an impasse which leaves the world unable to act on the unfolding humanitarian disaster in that country. The urgency of the situation is obvious; fierce fighting continues in several cities, with civilian deaths in Homs reported at up to 300 over the past few days alone. By U.N. estimates, at least 5,400 people have been killed since the uprisings started in March 2011. India voted for the draft, noting that it expressly rules out intervention in Syria under Article 42 of the U.N. Charter, and supporting the resolution's call for political dialogue between President Bashar al-Assad's government and opposition groups under the auspices of the Arab League. Moscow, however, has been hostile to all drafts on this matter, even the latest which dropped the demand that Mr. Assad step down. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the call made for government forces to withdraw to barracks is not balanced by a similar requirement for armed opposition groups and will thereby endanger any political process.
The West has only itself to blame for alienating what could have been powerful and influential allies in this terrible and protracted crisis. Russia's unwillingness to go along with a U.S.-led process stems, in large measure, from its anger at western conduct over Libya. The U.N. resolution of March 2011 imposed only a no-fly zone but served, in reality, as a cover for NATO's aim of violent regime change there. Today, Russia and China both believe they were deceived into abstaining rather than using their veto. Though Moscow has sought to distance itself from the brutalities of the Assad regime, which is now using heavy weapons against protesters, Saturday's veto is a shot in the arm for Damascus. But Washington's approach, which has included strident calls for President Assad to go, does not open a path for an urgent political solution to the violence either. One of the problems is that the opposition to the regime is severely fragmented. The Syrian National Council is at odds with both the Free Syrian Army and the National Co-ordination Committee. Furthermore, with the regime in Damascus drawn from the 10 per cent Alawite Shia minority, Sunni extremist groups have jumped into the fray. The P-5 and Arab League, along with India, Brazil and South Africa, must go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan of action that can end the violence and set the stage for a Syrian-led political solution.