The opening shots in a new Cold War?
While Britain freezes it was notable that yesterday an icy wind was blowing through the corridors of the United Nations yesterday as Russia and China vetoed a resolution on Syria. The resolution itself wasn’t much cop but even its lame condemnation and exhortation that Bashar al-Assad’s regime should play nice was too much for the Russo-Sino bloc to swallow.
Its typically assumed that this now traditional obstinacy stems from purely economic interests. However, a more immediate political motivation exists. Both Russia and China are presided over by dictatorial and authoritarian regimes. Furthermore, the Russian oligarchy is facing a serious and sustained challenge from the Russian people whose proud revolutionary spirit is now awakening them to protest against Vladimir Putin’s corrupt reign. Neither therefore can have the United Nations charging around trying to dethrone dictators; from their point of view it sets a dangerous precedent.
This is not to say Western governments are motivated by selfless concern for the welfare of the Syrian people. Syria, for them, has become a key battleground in the war with Iran. The installation of a new Syrian regime natural grateful and therefore friendly to the West would be a major blow landed on Theran. This explains ‘why Syria’ and not, say, Bahrain (although craven fear of the House of Saud plays a part in that calculation too). Economics here is secondary to the huge geo-political advantage a Syrian victory would give to Washington and London. Given the fact that the Iranian regime isn’t enjoying a brilliantly stable time, victory over Iran’s proxy Assad would strengthen their hand in demanding major concessions on Iran’s nuclear development.
What was most significant about yesterday was the continued solidification of the new divides in world politics. On the one side stands the ailing first world, the traditional Western allies, and on the other stands the rising power of the Russo-Sino bloc; the de facto leaders of developing, second and third world nations, disaffected with the rule of the former which for them has not led to a land of plenty. In the Middle East, Israel is firmly in the first camp while Iran is in the second, a nation whose aspirations to play a world role are symbolised by its nuclear ambitions. So it is the advent of the new Cold War in the Middle East is marked by the explosive antagonism between these two nations.
Sat in the middle of all this is the impotent United Nations and the suffering people of Syria. Totally dependent on its component governments, it is powerless to do anything as traditional adversaries circle round each other like pacing tigers. The prime failing of the UN is this, it fails to act as a tribune of the people because the people are rarely invited to even represent themselves. Governments and 1001 vested interests hold the UN prisoner while the people suffer. Reform in this direction is essential but its possible the UN won’t even survive the coming convulsions. Certainly, we are in the dying days of NATO as anything other than the armed wing of the Western alliance, with Russia, China and possibly others gone. If the UN isn’t reformed it probably won’t survive either.
We are entering a dangerous new period in international relations. Processes already underway are being accelerated by the economic armageddon engulfing the global capitalist system. Where it all ends is not clear but you can be assured after yesterday that something of epoch-defining significance has surely begun.