Updated: November 23, 2013 6:13AM
The Syrian civil war just claimed another casualty: the United Nations.
For the first time, a nation — Saudi Arabia — has rejected a seat on the U.N. Security Council, that august body charged with coping with global crisis. Syria, of course, is just the latest global crisis that the council has shown itself to be incapable of resolving.
“Allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill and burn its people by the chemical weapons, while the world stands idly, without applying deterrent sanctions against the Damascus regime, is also irrefutable evidence and proof of the inability of the security council to carry out its duties and responsibilities,” the Saudi statement complained.
There’s a lot more going on here than U.N. failure. There’s Saudi unhappiness and anger with President Barack Obama’s retreat from his red line promise to punish Syria’s use of chemical weapons against the rebels that Riyadh backs in the civil war. There’s Saudi worry the war’s momentum has been tipped against the rebels. There’s Saudi fear that Obama’s eagerness to negotiate with Iran, Riyadh’s supreme rival for influence in the Middle East, will boost Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions and pave the way for it to acquire nuclear weapons capability.
Still, for the first time, an influential country has drawn back the curtains exposing the sham that security council proceedings often are. They generate a lot of high-minded talk, then typically fall back on weak and water-downed resolutions avoiding meaningful action.
The U.N. resolution for Syria to give up its chemical weapons is a prime example. It lacked a military stick should dictator Bashir al-Assad cheat and hide sarin gas weapons in his arsenal. No potential military punishment was included because Russia — a permanent council player as opposed to a temporary member, which Saudi Arabia would have been — has the power of the veto to protect its ally in Damascus.
A feckless council, the Saudis said, leads to “the expansion of the injustices against the peoples, the violation of rights and the spread of conflicts and wars around the world.” That’s a bit rich since Saudi Arabia is a notorious violator of human rights — its women are fighting for the right to drive a car — and some of its fabulously rich sheiks funnel money to terrorists.
The Saudi complaints mask a larger problem with the U.N. — that it has degenerated into a post-colonial grievance forum dominated by anti-Western and anti-democratic causes. The “Hate Israel” agenda of the U.N. Human Rights Council borders on and sometimes crosses into the poisonous terrain of anti-Semitism.
The Saudi rejection of a temporary security council seat is not an existential crisis for the U.N., like Japan’s 1933 leaving the League of Nations. But this wounding of the U.N. is a moment of clarity exposing U.N. impotence, moral bankruptcy and, perhaps more than Riyadh intended, the fallacy at the heart of the U.N.’s being. That would be the notion that authoritarian and dictatorial governments with increasing clout in the world body, and in some cases the power of veto to cripple a good cause, share the West’s commitment to human rights, democracy and peace.