Analysis by Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service
United Nations, 24 July, (Asian Tribune-IPS): The continued political deadlock over a rash of ongoing crises -- including Iran, Myanmar (Burma), Palestine, Kosovo, Zimbabwe and Sudan -- is threatening to paralyze one of the world's most powerful political bodies, harking back to the days of the Cold War when it was turned into a battleground for U.S.-Soviet confrontation.
The 15-member Security Council, the only U.N. body with the power to make war and peace, remained incapacitated when China and Russia double vetoed two different resolutions, over the last 19 months, aimed at punishing Burma and Zimbabwe.
In January last year, a Western-backed and U.S.-led move to castigate the Burmese government for human rights violations suffered the first double veto in recent memory.
And in early July, history repeated itself, when these two big powers exercised their vetoes again -- this time to stall a resolution aimed at imposing sanctions against Zimbabwe for its disputed presidential elections.
The Zimbabwe resolution co-sponsored by Western nations -- led by the veto-wielding United States, Britain and France -- was dismissed by China and Russia primarily on the grounds that domestic issues, including human rights and presidential elections, do not constitute threats to international peace and security: the primary mandate of the Security Council.
Dr. Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS that although the double veto was "very disappointing and certainly a setback in terms of U.N.'s ability to stand up for human rights, it does not represent a significant precedent."
For example, there were the multiple triple vetoes by the United States, Britain and France, which blocked sanctions against South Africa during the apartheid era, he said.
"There have been the multiple U.S. vetoes blocking U.N. action over ongoing Israeli violations of international humanitarian law in the West Bank, which -- unlike the Zimbabwe case -- did not even involve issues of national sovereignty, since they involved territories under belligerent occupation," he added.
Similarly, France and the United States have repeatedly prevented the Security Council from enforcing its resolutions on Western Sahara due to their support for the Moroccan monarch, said Zunes, who has written extensively on issues relating to Security Council vetoes.
"Indeed, one would have to wonder what the three Western powers on the Security Council would have done if there was a similar resolution involving Equatorial Guinea or any of the other dozen Western-backed dictatorships in Africa," Zunes told IPS.
While Western hypocrisy is no excuse for China and Russia to block strong action against Zimbabwe, he argued, the Western nations should not expect those countries to be more responsible in enforcing international standards of human rights as long as they fail to do so themselves.
If the Western powers had their way, as one political observer pointed out, the Security Council would have imposed international sanctions against Sudan, Burma, Iran and Zimbabwe, and also admitted Kosovo as a new U.N. member state (a move that will be vetoed by Russia).
If China and Russia had their way, the Security Council would have penalised Israel for the increasingly brutal occupation of Palestinian territories (a move that will surely be vetoed by the United States, along with France and Britain).
So, the conflicting political scenario has continued to leave the Security Council in a state of permanent deadlock.
Speaking just after the double veto on Zimbabwe, an Asian diplomat told IPS that "the Security Council has been paralyzed once again on a topical issue."
Many had expected China and Russia to abstain, he said. "That was the feedback many of us had, but something happened in between."
Russia's decision to veto, he said, toughened the Chinese position. "There was a view prior to this that China would try to be accommodating given the Olympics. Clearly, this consideration did not stop them, as evidenced by the veto."
He also said: "I understand that they wanted an up-front assurance from the three Western powers that the Security Council would suspend any indictment of Sudanese President (Ahmad) Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in return for an abstention" -- an issue that could come up before the Security Council in the near future.
But the Western powers were apparently unwilling to agree to this, claiming that justice had to take its course.
He said the double veto could herald a period of greater division and tension in the Security Council.
"If this is the case, we can expect the Security Council to be paralysed further," he added.
Commenting on the failed resolution on Zimbabwe, Bill Fletcher Jr., executive editor of BlackCommentator.com, said: "U.S.-inspired sanctions against the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe lack any moral authority. This does not excuse President (Robert) Mugabe for his autocratic approach to the situation in his country."
Rather, with the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq -- and its threats to Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and other countries -- the United States lacks the ability to play a leading role in resolving the Zimbabwe crisis, Fletcher told IPS.
As is happening now, the African Union (AU) must be pressured to play the leading role, along with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), he added.
"This means that Africans must lead in putting the pressure on the Mugabe regime," Fletcher said.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions has suggested a policy of complete non-cooperation with the Mugabe regime and this makes sense if led by Africans rather than introduced by those in the West who have unhelpful agendas, he added.
On Monday, in a dramatic turnaround, the Mugabe government and the opposition agreed to a dialogue "with a view to creating a genuine, viable, permanent and sustainable solution to the Zimbabwe crisis."
This agreement was reached as a result of the intervention both by the AU and SADC. The talks are scheduled to take place later this week in Pretoria, presided over by South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Third World diplomat told IPS that there is also a disturbing tendency by the "West" to try to broaden the definition of what is a "threat to international peace and security".
While the U.N. Charter leaves some room for interpretation, this definition of a "threat" has generally been confined to wars and violence.
"What we were seeing now is an attempt by the West to include all manner of transgressions as possible reasons that require Security Council action," the diplomat said.
In the Zimbabwe case, the argument was that democracy, elections, and human rights all fall under possible new definitions of "threats". "This is the same sort of reasoning that we have seen the West try to apply to Myanmar over the political process and the humanitarian crisis."
Related to this, he said, there is also a tendency on the part of the West to impose its own standards of behavior on the world.
"You can see this being done throughout the U.N., most noticeably in the committee dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural issues, and increasingly now so in the Security Council," he said.
"I am not sure whether the double veto will stymie these Western efforts. I doubt so. They will keep pushing the envelope," he declared.
- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency