By William Tucker
Coming on the heels of the Russian and Chinese veto of a Security Council resolution, the UN General Assembly took up the issue of Syria. The resolution in question, which passed the General Assembly by a vote of 137-12, called for Syrian President Bashir Assad to resign his post. Unlike the Security Council, the resolutions passed in the General Assembly are not legally binding. However, lopsided votes like this can be used to pressure vetoing nation’s to reconsider their position. Indeed, that was the hope of the Arab nations who supported this resolution. This is unlikely to happen in the case of Russia and China, though. Russia’s position on Syria has been discussed here before and they have too much to lose in supporting a resolution that could be used in the commission of regime change. The last thing Russia, or China for that matter, want to see is a precedent of removing ruling parties from power. Or, more specifically, removing governments from nations that are of strategic importance to both Moscow and Beijing. Russia will likely respond to this vote with a reiteration of their objections, but they may offer an alternative, albeit purposely unworkable, resolution before the UNSC.
Another aspect to consider is the view from Syria. The opposition may see the vote as a positive sign despite the inability to enforce the resolution. For Assad, this removes any chance that he will be offered amnesty thus spurring him to fight on. In fact, he may rapidly escalate his crackdown while the permanent members of the Security Council debate the issue. If anything positive could be taken from this UN vote, it is the possibility that the ruling Baath party, or the Alawite community, may begin to view Assad as a liability. The Alawite community in Syria is a minority and they don’t want to give up power to the much larger Sunni population. They may see a need to remove Assad as a way to open negotiations with the opposition, and thus, preserve their hold on power. This would be a rather risky gamble, however, as the opposition may see the move as a sign of weakness. What is certain at this point is Assad has been pushed into a corner and he will likely do all he can to survive – much to the detriment of the Syrian people.
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