Perspective is important. The ability to see events as others might see them is a talent that is mightily handy when navigating the shoals of international relations. It would seem that NATO and the US did not conceive of a point of view that could not agree with what is defined now as the “international norm” of the Right to Protect (R2P).
The disbelief and outrage expressed at the veto votes of both Russia and the People’s Republic of China over the UN Resolution regarding Syria leads one to believe that our State Department believed a contrary position on R2P did not credibly exist. Au contraire, points out STRATFOR in this morning’s Geopolitical Diary. STRATFOR posits that perhaps a couple of widely held assumptions are not quite as universal as we had believed. To both the Russians and Chinese, the preservation of human life, and prevention of crimes against innocent civilians or mass killings, still needs to be weighed against the spreading influence of potential geopolitical, military, and economic rivals. Responsibility to Protect, R2P, was for the West in reality E2I, excuse to intervene:
The Russian and Chinese view was that this doctrine opened the door to unlimited interventions not in response to mass murder, but in order to prevent mass murder. From the Chinese and Russian perspective, this would allow intervention based on fears. Fears can be feigned and anyone can assert the threat of mass murder and war crimes. Therefore, the Libyan precedent seemed to be a doctrine that justified intervention based on suspicion of intent. Or, to put it more bluntly, the Russian and Chinese view was that the intervention in Libya was designed to achieve political and economic goals, and the threat of impending mass murder was simply the justification.
China and Russia viewed the Syrian resolution as a preface to more aggressive resolutions also based on the doctrine of preventing atrocities much greater than those already committed. They felt that this would set a permanent principle of international law that they opposed. Their opposition was based on the perception that this was merely a justification for interventions against regimes of which the West disapproved.
Also, an America stretched thinner than its shrinking military resources can reasonably secure works to the advantage of both Russia and China. Not only that, but freedom of navigation in the Straits of Hormuz or elsewhere is not necessarily a universal desire, especially when that freedom means possible interdiction or interruption of vital energy supplies.
Iran is in the process of establishing a sphere of influence in which Syria plays a strategic role. If al Assad survives, his regime will be heavily dependent on Iran. Neither China nor Russia would be particularly troubled by this. Certainly, Russia does not want to see an excessively powerful Iran, but it would welcome any dynamic that would tie American power down in a long-term duel with Iran. Creating a regional balance of power would divert U.S. power in directions that would provide Russia with freedom for maneuver.
The same can be said of China, with the additional proviso that the Chinese do not want to see anything interfere with their energy trade with Iran. So there were two issues for China. First, China did not want a precedent set that might allow an American intervention in Iran. Second, China, like Russia, welcomed the diversion of American power from the South China Sea, where it had been planning to shift forces.
None of this should surprise us. Unfortunately, China and Russia continue to play realpolitik at a time when the US foreign policy team seems unwilling to admit that such power politics even exist. Russia’s dispatch of a Naval flotilla (which included an aircraft carrier) last month to the Syrian port of Tartous was a message strongly sent to both NATO and the United States. The Russian vessels comprised an “influence squadron” if ever there was one. The clear signal to NATO, the members of which share the continent with Russia, was a not-so-subtle “HANDS OFF”. With Russian resurgence a distinct possibility amongst a largely disarmed Europe, and Russian control of the natural gas valves that supply the key NATO economies, the message will be heeded. For the United States, that message, and the message of China’s and Russia’s veto, is slightly more ominous:
What we have now seen is that China and Russia recognize the battlefield and for now are prepared to side with Iran against the United States, a move that makes clear sense from a balance of power perspective.
Perspective. Spelled out very well by STRATFOR.
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- On Midrats 22 Feb 2015, 5pm – Episode 268: 21st Century Sims