The international community’s attempts to respond to the bloodshed and repression in Syria have been undermined by the overstretched interpretation – and application – of the United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya, intended for the protection of civilians.
President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, for example, said on Saturday that a “good resolution” on Libya had been “turned into a scrap of paper to cover up a pointless military operation... . I would very much not like a Syrian resolution to be pulled off in a similar manner.” Evidently he believes that Russia’s abstention in March has been taken advantage of; henceforth, he would exercise Russia’s Security Council veto to prevent similar results.
The NATO bombing of civilian targets in Tripoli is thus working against the hopes of helping civilians in Syria, though Mr. Medvedev is open to the possibility of “other calls and statements on Syria,” some of which might come from the Security Council. Those potential “calls and statements” do not sound very effective.
The upshot is that the United States, the European Union and Canada, among others, have enacted various different, limited sanctions against the government of Syria, where civilians continue to be killed. There is no co-ordinated international approach.
The contrast between the treatment of Libya and the treatment of Syria is not easy to account for. The simplest explanation is that the Libyan protests, and consequently the repression, came earlier than the comparable events in Syria. The West, in its flirtation with regime change in Libya, now feels overcommitted. Another reason may be that Syria is to a considerable degree a client-state of Iran, whereas Colonel Gadhafi is more or less a freelancer. And the stakes may be higher with Syria, given its borders with Israel and Lebanon. On the other hand, Libya has a lot of desirable light crude oil.
But the nations active in the skies over Libya can still reverse their mission creep and enforce a no-fly zone as originally planned. In that case, other countries might well be more willing to participate in putting concerted, coherent pressure on the ruthless regime in Damascus.