It all must fall

”The development of the situation in Zimbabwe until now has not exceeded the context of domestic affairs,” Wang said. ”It will unavoidably interfere with the negotiation process.”

South Africa, a Zimbabwe neighbor that holds one of the council’s non-permanent seats, led the opposition to the sanctions, arguing that Zimbabwe is not a threat to international peace.

Russia and China Veto U.N. Sanctions on Zimbabwe,” NYT. 11 July, 2008.

The Economist writes that whilst there is increasing consensus that the situation in Zimbabwe is unacceptable, “the world remains divided—and often bitterly so—on what to do about him,” and the primary beneficiary of these divisions is Robert Mugabe. The division that seems to be evidenced in this particular vote is one that seems to have been described by several authors last year in The National Interest and Foreign Affairs, here too.

China, and to a lesser extent Russia, are building a network of south-south connectivity among developing states, most of whom fully appreciate the value of respecting “national sovereignty,” because their regimes are authoritarian or semi-authoritarian. China in particular offers poor and/or authoritarian states an alternative road to inclusion in the international system. It is a model of development that aims, ideally, to provide security and prosperity for both the average citizen and his authoritarian overlord. It is a rejection of Western development models, allowing authoritarians to participate in globalization without retreating from opaqueness to transparency or democratizing.

Powerful developing democracies, such as South Africa and India, seem to have adopted this Beijing centered variation on cuius regio, eius religio, as well, siding with Beijing on many human rights issues, from Burma to Zimbabwe to Sudan and Iran. The cool realpolitik of ambitious developing states with Great Power pretensions seems to lead them to challenge the established powers’ obsession with the human rights records and maintaining unfair subsidies, insisting on der primat der Aussenpolitik. Perhaps these countries, because many of them are so far from being developed, fear the erosion of their newly created state institutions during the process of globalization, and the stunting of their rise within the international system via strident humanitarian interventionism. The ringleaders of such a position, China and Russia — who are well aware of their own malignant human rights practices and democratic deficits — undoubtedly see Western attempts to intervene in human rights cases as a potential affront to their own prestige, and placement within the club of privileged nations. No wonder the Russian Ambassador to the UN called the Zimbabwe resolution to be “illegitimate and dangerous.”

Geopolitically, action will only be taken on Zimbabwe when the danger of its station prove to be irreducibly dangerous to one or more of its neighbors. Perhaps mass of refugees dwarfing the recent flows, make their way across the South African or Botswana or Zambian borders. The country’s vested interests seem willing to do anything to hold on to power, and the states said to have the most leverage over Zimbabwe seem to be doing just short of everything they can to keep the regime in place. It seems that those who are tolerant of the Mugabe regime condone it, maybe tempestuously, out of principle. Ambassador Khalilzad fumed over the Russian veto, going so far as to question Russia’s right to G-8 membership. But Russia knows that voting for tougher sanctions would legitimize American criticism of its domestic politics and those of its odious friends. They also lose no prestige by protecting Mugabe (which isn’t to say that the situation is particularly pressing in Moscow, anyway). Those vested interests in Harare would have to lash out against Zimbabwe’s neighbors (or perhaps the sly Western journalists who report from the country) in order for their Chinese and African apologists to seriously turn against the regime. In a world with a “right to protect,” the protectors are left without a mechanism to exercise the R2P. Until Zimbabwe explodes, those hoping for major change in the country from without should not hold their breath.


4 thoughts on “It all must fall

  1. I would not hold my breath. I think the whole circus has shown once again the inadequation of the UN to do anything else than stop most countries to get at each other’s throat. Not that it is a bad achievement, but even there, the UN has not been always that succesful. This is mainly due to its veto power system.

    The world lacks a kind of institution that still needs to be invented. The ICC could be a step in that direction though… But let’s face it, there is at the moment no institution to protect civilians from their own governments, and not even one to protect civilians from local militias (as recent Lebanese events are showing once again). The UN never pretended to do this and there is nothing else. In a way, it vindicates Russia, China and South Africa. Despite the fact that none of these lands is a functional democracy, they have a point that the UN is not legally entitled to act in Zimbabwe. Paradoxically, it also gives credit to G.W. Bush’s theories (as well as the ones of Bernard Kouschner) of intervention. If democracies want to defend or promote their ideology in other countries, they still have to find an institution to legitimate it. And there is some way to go…

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