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.
Your analysis is a good one, although there is also a more urgent reason for the vetoes that you haven’t mentioned. Syria is a close ally of the Iranian government. With Israel now carrying out covert attacks on Iranian soil (such as the assassination of nuclear scientists) whilst also ratcheting up threats of more direct military action, the fall of Assad would leave Iran even more isolated. This is not in the interests of either Russia or China who have their own private contracts and energy supplies to protect.
I agree with you that ‘the cold war’ was actually a hot war fought out in multiple regional conflicts, but the cold war in that sense has never really ended. It has since been fought out in the colour revolutions of Russia’s neighbours, where both sides were secretly engaged in supporting their preferred puppets. With uprisings of the Arab Spring, the cold war has now come back to the Middle East, and all sides (as per normal) are acting in what they see as their own geostrategic interests.
But it is the Americans who are exercising the most aggressive foreign policy of the three superpowers (whether or not China is already a superpower is open for debate, but surely soon will be), their true and overriding aim being to enforce (and slightly less overtly, to expand) America’s ‘global leadership’. This intention was first made plain by documents released from the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and put into immediate effect by Bush and the rest of the neo-con hawks. To preserve and further expand the US empire remains, however, as the latest US Defense Review shows, the stated policy of the Obama administration.
Of course, Washington serves the interests, not of the American people, but of the military-industrial-financial complex that sustains it. And so by means of the vast fleets of unmanned drones and the increasing use of ‘private contractors’, the US is meddling in countries all over the Middle East and Africa in the pursuit of profits and power. Bush screamed for regime change whenever it suited him, but 9/11 is now sufficiently long gone that better excuses are required. Gaddafi was ousted under the cover of humanitarian intervention, but if that were the true motivation for military operations (which has cost an estimated 30 thousand Libyan lives – as with Iraq, the precise numbers remain unknown), then what are we to make of the deals immediately brokered with the newly appointed NTC for energy and reconstruction contracts.
The most pressing danger for the world right now is an all-out military attack on Iran. Given the bellicose rhetoric coming from Israel and the West, and the imposition of sanctions (which is historically a precursor to war), it seems that such an attack might be all but imminent. It is certainly in the pipeline and has been for well over a decade – ever since the guys of PNAC got their stupid heads together. The excuse this time is that the Iranians have secret ambitions to build a nuclear bomb. This may or may not be the case, but the plans are already well in place, and whatever the truth, war is certainly not the way forward to a peaceful settlement. Any attack on Iran will only serve to further inflame the Middle East and very probably bring about a more worldwide conflict, the likes of which I hope I never see.
For this reason, I think we should actually be relieved to see that the Russians and Chinese are hanging tough on Syria. They are simply serving their own interests, of course, but that is true of all the superpowers. The West too, only talks of democracy and freedom when it suits them. They condemn the terrible human rights record of Gaddafi only after he is toppled, and in spite of the fact that previously his regime had been helping with our own ‘interrogations’. They condemn Assad when he brutally cracks down on what is an armed uprising within his own country, and yet maintain support for the House of Saud who sent forces to fire on peaceful protests in Bahrain. The duplicity is obvious enough.
What is happening now should remind us of the dark days leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, almost exactly fifty years ago. Back then, before I was born, there were just two superpowers facing off, and the balance of power was finely poised. Fortunately, and by the skin of our teeth, the world just made it through to 1963. But since breakup of the Soviet Union, one of those superpowers is weakened, whilst the next one, China, is only just gathering strength. The neo-imperialists in Washington having being trying to capitalise on their advantage ever since.
So instead of emerging into a world at peace after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet empire actually opened up a power vacuum, which the American empire has been trying to expand into ever since. Whilst this neo-imperialist agenda remains in place, I hope that the equally self-serving powers in Moscow and Beijing can combine to stymie the grand intentions of the US, which is to somehow win ‘The Great Game’ outright, and establish an unchallenged global hegemony. Meanwhile, by holding up US plans for Syria, this latest Sino-Russian veto may help again to push back the likelihood of an immediate assault on Iran. In this, it goes a little way to sustaining the fragile peace between the superpowers, and since these are such extremely dangerous times, that is certainly good news.
I agree with you that there are other issues influencing the political stage, Iran being an important factor as well as the West’s role in Syria. It’s a given that America’s foreign policy is much more aggressive than either Russia’s or China’s policy, or at least more obvious. The fact that the US’ military capability is still unparallel shows the hypocrisy when it comes to dealing with the Asiatic powers. In this analysis, I chose to specifically highlight Russia and China’s interests in Syria and against the West, without necessarily negating their actions as both you and I know there’s worse in the world. They are merely balancing power in politics.
Good article Sus. You’re last paragraph hit the nail on the head.
If I may, would also like to encourage you to listen and read more of the Syrian peoples’ perspective (the human perspective) on this crisis.
Most of what we read about the Syrian revolution and the Arab Spring on-line revolves around long geo-political theoretical essays. These essays always overlook the most important element to the Syrian crisis. The humanist element. Wall of Controversy’s post to you is a prime example. Notice that his post completely ignores the Syrian people’s plight.
As a Near Easterner, I feel very strongly about the situation in Syria and for its people. I have great admiration for the Syrians involved in the revolutionary movement, as I do for all the Arabic-speaking revolutionaries in this awakening.
Thanks for your reply, and I agree with you. It’s unfortunate that politics has only turned away from the situation, rather than remedying it. At the end of the day, the main plight we need to be addressing is the people. And though I believe that what is happening in Syria, is nothing short of an atrocity; I have to be careful in terms of what I trust as my main sources of information.
I am a bit of skeptic, when it comes to Western media. Hence I have been trying to find personal footage and blogs, to understand more about the situation. I think a small minority, have been hijacking the conversation in support of Assad, which has made me come to conclusion, that we must only trust sources which are made from within the country, and ones without political motive.