The UN and the chimera of multilateralism
One of the unintended consequences of the UN’s involvement in seeking to bring an end to conflict between and among states is the risk – an increasingly high one these days – that its reputation as a peacekeeper may be even further eroded, providing even more grist to the mill of the organization’s critics.
That is precisely what happened during the months that Kofi Annan served as the UN’s Special Envoy to Syria. Indeed, the argument has been made to the effect that Mr Annan’s own legacy as a peacemaker might itself have been damaged on account of his agreeing to undertake a mission that was doomed to failure from the start, though that argument is probably cancelled out by the fact that peacekeepers in contemporary international society run the risk of having their reputations ruined at every turn, anyway.
At the end of his failed stint as UN and Arab League Envoy in Syria Kofi Annan appeared no less frustrated over the failure of the Security Council to reach a point of unanimity on Syria than he was over the intransigence of the Syrian regime. Indeed, while Bashir al Assad’s refusal to embrace positions that would have amounted to him negotiating himself out of power would probably not have shocked Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General may well have been disappointed over the fact that the reputation which he has developed as a friend of the superpowers during his term of office was insufficient to secure the Russian and Chinese Security Council votes that were needed to help broker an end to the crisis in Syria. Thrice at least, Russia and China intervened to thwart the UN’s attempt to break the deadlock in Syria.
What the UN’s so far failed attempt to bring an end to the Syrian crisis has done, is to expose international relations to an icy blast of Cold War diplomacy, the arm-wrestling between the West, on the one hand and Russia and China, on the other, serving as a reminder that the protection of vital interests extends way beyond the ideological constricts of the Cold War era. The battle over spheres of influence persists. The Berlin Wall has been torn down and the Communist Party of Russia no longer presides over a Soviet Union but the recent Russian and Chinese Security Council vetoes on Syria serve as a reminder that the post-Cold War era is not quite what it is sometimes made out to be. The world is by no means smothered in a global embrace of multilateralism.
In a sense the Security Council logjam over Syria puts into perspective the circumstance of the UN General Assembly which, for all its pomp and circumstance and its role in, at best, amplifying the noises that are made on the international diplomatic stage during the interregnum between each gathering of that ‘august body,’ continues to be no more than a stage on which every country makes its own ‘grand’ appearance knowing that its performance will elicit little more than a routine handclap from the rest of the world and perhaps, just perhaps, a fleeting mention of what it has to say from a handful of the major media houses. After that, it’s business as usual.