Neither BRICS nor IBSA united on Syria question
On August 2, the China Daily announced that "BRICS nations are to vote against Syria resolution", citing the Moscow-based RIA Novosti news agency. Yet only a day later, China and Russia proved to be the only BRICS members to reject the General Assembly Resolution 66/253B, which directly criticizes Russia and China by “deploring the Security Council failure” to act. In addition, the resolution supports Annan’s “demand that the first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities.” This was the main reason for India to abstain, arguing that the text made scant mention of the role of the armed opposition, which was setting a “dangerous trend” by using weapons of “very high sophistication,” in the violence. Brazil and South Africa supported the resolution. As a consequence, neither BRICS nor IBSA could find a common denominator on what to do about Syria.
This points to a larger debate about the BRICS' attempts to define their stance on sovereignty vs. intervention. Brazil's idea of the 'Responsibility while Protecting', a concept conceived last year by the Brazilian government to bring the two sides together, has failed to have an impact on the debate, precisely because it did not mitigate China's and Russia's worries that interventions cause more damage than necessary or support a hidden agenda. As Matias Spektor points out, China and Russia were "unhappy to see Brazil go further than they were ready to go in criticizing the Assad regime in Syria, and in their eyes RWP only confirms Brazil’s unpredictability when it comes to defending the primacy of sovereignty."
The BRICS are unable to agree on these big issues because their individual strategic interests at stake diverge too much. In a recent article, Michael Ignatieff argued that "Syria tells us that the era of humanitarian intervention, “responsibility to protect,” is over, because it assumed a historical progression that has turned out to be false. The idea that the “international community” should shoulder together the responsibility to protect people from murderous regimes made sense only on the assumption that we all wanted people to live in tolerably decent ones. Neither Russia nor China takes this view."
Yet India's decision to abstain from the resolution shows that even within IBSA, there is little consensus about how to deal with complex situations such as the one in Syria. In the final document of last year's IBSA Summit, the three leaders argued that if carried out in a responsible manner, the three could, in principle, support intervention in the future. Yet the case of Syria shows that internal disagreement is too strong to adopt a common position. Both BRICS and IBSA have the potential to cooperate on many issues, as I have pointed out before. The 'Responsibility to Protect' does not seem to be not one of them.
Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP