Is Russia's world the one you really want to live in?
The West may be in retreat over global security and the "democracy agenda". Here's the bad news. The enemies of global security and the democracy agenda are not in retreat at all
Oh, and don't forget North Korea. They'll have been watching this too. So, who is winning, and who is losing out of the Syria debacle? Everyone's focusing on Vladimir Putin's Russia, which is understandable. But there's a wider, deeper, yet related question to consider about the world you want to live in. First things first.
Moscow has not asserted itself this successfully on the international stage since the end of the Cold War. Putin and company are ecstatic, but when you consider what it is that modern Russia stands for and the international precedents that are in the process of being set, it's not at all clear that we should feel that way too.
So, what has Russia achieved, and what does it mean for the rest of us? This needs to be answered on several levels. Note that this applies regardless of whether you supported the idea of military strikes against Syria or not.
First, the Russian vision of a global order determined by "international law" has made a major step forward. This does not sound like such a bad thing, does it? Why shouldn't the use of military force in global geo-politics be subsumed under the United Nations Security Council and the will of its leading members?
Well, it all depends on what kind of world you want to live in. Russia is a veto wielding permanent member of the Security Council. Hold that thought.
Second, Russia has humiliated the United States of America, to the extent that the Obama administration, which publicly advocated the use of force against the Syrian government for its use of chemical weapons, is now falsely and feebly claiming that it favoured the "diplomatic route" all along. It didn't, and the record proves that. Putin has not only thwarted declared US aims, he has forced the US to grovel in the process.
There are those who might think that cutting America down to size is not such a bad thing. Again, think about the world that you want to live in. Hold that thought too.
Third, significant sections of the US and Western public -- who were against the use of military force, as all the opinion polls conclusively show -- find themselves more closely allied to the Russian position on a major issue in international politics than the stated position of their own governments. Putin's now famous, September 11 op-ed in the New York Times represented the greatest public relations victory for a Russian leader since the end of Communism, and even before. Again, hold that thought.
Now, consequences. Let's be methodical, while, again, bearing in mind that these consequences apply whether or not you supported military strikes.
If Russia manages to establish the principle that it has a de facto and de jure veto over Western intervention the following will apply:
a) Iran will get nuclear weapons since Russia will veto any military action to stop it. Given that diplomacy and sanctions have not made a blind bit of difference to Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, the ultimate threat that could possibly have stopped them would be taken off the table. That's the first part of the world you're going to get.
b) All anti-Western forces that do not also pose a direct and immediate threat to Russia itself will feel that they now operate under a protective, Russian umbrella. Since Russia views al-Qaeda as primarily a threat to the US and the wider West, that includes them too. Liking your new world yet?
c) Regimes that use chemical weapons and/or other WMD will know that they have a get-out clause. They can use those weapons and then call in the UN. "What? You don't want a peaceful resolution to this problem? Warmonger!" OK. But, welcome to your new world order.
d) The Western public may well be in retreat over global security and they may well be tired beyond words of what was once quaintly referred to as the "democracy agenda". Here's the bad news. The enemies of global security and democracy are not in retreat at all. They're bold, confident and feel they are in the ascendancy. And who could doubt it?
But, hey, why think this all through? Syria? Russia? Iran? Weapons of mass destruction? Oh, go away. When's the next version of the iPad coming out?
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