15 March, 2012 — Voice of Russia
The crisis in Syria and the way it unfolded shows that the model of international relations that developed after the collapse of the bipolar system has changed in the last ten years. The idea of the unipolarity is still on the table, but it is becoming more and more blurred. The relations between governments, nation states are becoming more complicated and multi-polar.
To prove the statement above, it is enough to recall the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999. It was a typical situation, with an ethnic conflict breaking out that led to the formation of a separatist enclave on the territory of a sovereign state. Many countries have been faced with these kinds of challenges. There are many ways to solve the problem. They can be very soft or very hard. It is by no means certain that the government in Belgrade chose the best option. However, Yugoslavia was an independent country with political sovereignty, and under international law, the interference in its internal affairs was unacceptable.
However, in this case nobody cared about the law. The principle of might is right prevailed. None of the NATO countries even bothered to call a meeting of the Security Council before the military operation, with one coming about only after the insistent demands of Russia. Thus, on the ruins of the international legitimacy in place since 1945, a new reality began to form, i.e. a parallel international law. In other words, a group of countries led by the United States in the 1990s “privatized” the mechanism of force to resolve conflicts in the international arena and put on a pedestal the concept of “humanitarian intervention“. Thus, the alliance was an excellent tool for interfering in the internal affairs of any country with impunity.
It should be noted that the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia was followed by a more sober period. The brutal three-month assault on a European state led to a reluctance to resort to such methods again. This was less the case with the U.S., which decided that in the first decade of the 21st century it should consolidate its achievements by establishing American hegemony in the Balkans and to start taking control of the Middle East. The result of this geopolitical thinking was the campaign for regime change in Iraq in 2003.
This time, Washington and London did not even come up with some complicated scheme for “humanitarian intervention“. Iraq was accused of developing weapons of mass destruction, which in the end were never found. The violation of international law was so blatant that even the closest allies of the United States, France and Germany, joined Russia in opposing the military campaign, which was more like a military crime.
The campaign lasted well beyond 2003. The planned easy stroll in Iraq mired the Americans in a bloody eight-year war, resulting in the deaths of more than four thousand soldiers and an inglorious withdrawal. An American expert close to the White House said in a recent interview that last year, U.S. President Barack Obama unsuccessfully tried to persuade Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq in the long term. But he did not succeed.
The global financial and economic crisis played a role in reducing Washington’s ambitions. The U.S. economy, overburdened with debts, can no longer support the aggressive foreign policy of the 1990s and 2000s. The EU countries have been experiencing similar problems. The last chord was the operation in Libya, where the U.S. tried to change the tactics for the first time, shifting the bulk of the costs on the shoulders and wallets of its European allies.
Initially, London and Paris enthusiastically embraced their new roles, hoping to strengthen their positions in North Africa. Perhaps the British and French elites hoped to exert revenge in Libya for failure of the Suez adventure back in 1956? But Britain and France, given their limited financial and military capabilities, did not prove worthy of the great trust American had placed in them, and the United States had to actively assist them. In the end, after collective efforts that lasted for almost a year, the Libyan regime collapsed in blood and ruins. But apparently, Western powers cannot continue in the same vein.
The current situation in Syria shows that Damascus might be a tough nut to crack for the U.S. and the EU. The Syrian government institutions are strong and its army is much more combat-ready than Libya’s. Initially, the calculations of the supporters of the intervention were based on the popular uprising against the government of Bashar al-Assad and the creation of strong pockets of resistance controlled by the opposition, which over time could be turned into a “safe zone” and be used to defeat the Syrian government. This calculation turned out to be incorrect.
After government forces took control of the city of Homs and the recent successful operation in Idlib show that the level of resistance of the political leadership of Syria is quite high. In addition, the tough stance of Russia and China has played a huge role in preventing an attack on Syria. Speaking with one voice, Moscow and Beijing have demonstrated that they will no longer tolerate unipolarity and believe that the basis of international relations should be international law rather than a desire to get rid of the regime in any given country.
This suggests that in 2012, the world situation has changed. Russia, China and several other states protested the aggression against Yugoslavia and Iraq, but their voices were not heard. Today, however, the U.S. and EU have to listen to them. Thus, the foreign ministers of EU countries voted against sending troops to Syria. And U.S. President Barack Obama said that it would be a mistake on the part of the United States “to take unilateral military action.” The situation in Syria is now a test of multipolarity for the entire system of international relations. How the Syrian crisis is resolved will show whether our world has become multi-polar or it remains a unipolar dictatorship.