Russia and China are unlikely candidates to support the United Nations when it comes to their interests in the Middle East and Africa, and especially the dispute over Syria. The countries’ stronghold over arms, trade and politics within the Asiatic and African regions are unparallel and have been for decades.
Unsurprisingly, both Russia and China have vetoed a draft bill for an Arab peace resolution, calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign from his position. And despite the countries being two of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; the relationship between the primary giants are symbolised by their continual icy coverage of one another in the media.
The Cold War seems to have mutated into something more intelligible for a modern technological society. A war of words by means of digital and print news represents a true picture of how Western governments feel about the Asian administrations. Let us not forget, as little as 40 years ago, the political and military tensions between the USSR, (as Russia was formerly known) China and the West were only too evident.
The United States forged NATO, a military alliance using containment of communism as a main strategy through the Truman Doctrine, in 1949. And despite neither country ever directly fighting one another (apart from the Cuban Missile Crisis) – they did ‘fight’ for their beliefs using client states who fought for their values on their behalf. The first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, famously stated the organization’s initial goal was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down,” suggesting the nature of the alliance.
Although Russia is now a major player in the Partnership for Peace programme with the NATO council; the relationship has been persistently strained with conflicts of interest. The most recent diplomatic tension had arisen in 2008 when Russia and separatist governments waged war in Georgia.
Despite consistently being at odds, in December 2009 NATO approached Russia for help in Afghanistan, requesting permission for the alliance to fly cargoes (including possibly military ones) over Russian territory to Afghanistan. In an open letter co-written by German defence experts, it was suggested that Russia was needed in the wake of an emerging multi-polar world in order for NATO to counterbalance emerging Asian powers- China being one of them.
The geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia and the U.S. is also exemplary between China and the West. In the 21st century, Sino-American relations are mainly based on trade with China being the U.S’s largest foreign creditor.
However, in similarly underhanded methods over the years, America’s capitalist influence was extended via client states and individuals including Chiang Kai-shek during the Sino-Japanese war in 1937. He was then used as a pawn against Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party, to fight for the U.S’s political ideology. Chiang manipulated the Soviets and Americans during the Second World War, as he increasingly became frustrated with the U.S’s imperialist motives and eventually, relinquished power to the People’s Republic of China. Both the Korean and Vietnam War shortly followed, in which both the Soviet Union and China were aiding the opposition via means of arms.
But it seems that the turning point came after the September 11th attacks in 2001, wherein China publicly expressed their condolences and the PRC offered strong support for the war on terrorism, contributing $150m in bilateral assistance.
Between these super-powers remains almost 60 years of diplomatic tensions – the only thing that seems to keep any conflict at bay is the interests that lie within mutual trade and debts to one another. However, beneath the surface, both China and Russia are still seen to be a threat as the forces have sought to strengthen ties by signing a Treaty of Friendship as well as building the Trans-Siberian oil pipeline, geared towards growing China’s energy needs.
The United States and Russia may now have a lukewarm relationship, but Russia still has the same nuclear capacity as they did during the Cold War. According to the Nuclear Forces Guide in 2008, Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. It has the second largest fleet of ballistic missile submarines and is the only country apart from the U.S. with a modern strategic bomber force. Since 2001, it is currently the world’s top supplier of arms, accounting for approximately 30% of worldwide weapon sales and is continuing to upgrade major equipment in the next five years.
And Syria has been top of the weapons agenda when it comes to dealing with Russia. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has recently defended their arms trade with Syria, despite the clashes that the country has been involved with.
“We’ve explained the facts: No matter what we supply to other countries in the region, this can in no way affect the balance of power in the region,” Lavrov said at the 38th Munich Security Conference in Germany. “We don’t supply firearms and what we supply is not used in the conflict.” Russia was one of the strongest supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad during the Syrian uprisings.
Syria bought $700 million worth of Russian weapons, or 7 percent of Russia’s $10 billion in arms deliveries abroad in jet trainers for over half a billion dollars in 2010, according to the Russian defence think-tank CAST. So it comes as no surprise that Russia would veto the sanctions this week.
Although China’s military spending may seem infinitesimal compared to both the U.S. and Russia, they are rapidly expanding their military, technological and cyber warfare capabilities. And more so, China’s strengthening of relations in Africa, the Middle East and South America directly opposes U.N. sanctions. With the use of subsidiary state-run oil companies, (none of which I shall name,) the country has been able to evolve their natural gas and liquid petroleum reserves; illicitly partnering with Iran, Syria, and Sudan.
While Russia and China may have alliances with the west, their interests lie in the heart of economic growth at any cost. Their involvement in Syria is merely a tool in becoming a superpower on the global stage and so a veto has always been inevitably unlikely.