On september 11, the New York Times published a statement written by Vladimir Putin in which he urged Obama not to strike Syria because it would be against international law.
We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.
Russia’s seat on the Security Council
It is extremely important for Russia to keep the United Nations Security Council alive and to prevent that a new body is established(without Russia and China), as has been suggested in the wake of the multiple veto’s that have been cast by these two states.
I think it would severely undermine the credibility of the security council and deal a blow to international law in general if the US would indeed strike Syria without UN approval.
As a law student, although the security counsil needs to be reformed, I would consider it a great loss if the UN would suffer the same fate as the league of nations has.
However, Russia’s interest in the survival of the Security Council has little to do with wanting to preserve international law.
The Security Council is a tool for Russia to balance itself against the west. Putin likes to pretent he is the leader of a global superpower but in fact, Russia is merely a pittance of what it once was.
It’s population is decreasing, it is very dependent on it’s energy export, and it’s military is no match for the US armed forces.
It’s seat on the Security Council is basically all Russia has left to project power on a worldwide scale.
But, Russia is not the only state that calls on international law and human rights when it suits them and shoves it aside at times when law and human rights are just a hassle.
Using international law for political gain
At present, it seems to be common practice to adhere to international law only if it suits you and if you can use it for your own political gain.
There is no following the law, whether we like it or not, as Putin claims.
Western states are screaming bloody murder about Assad stomping down the rebellion against his government.
But, when Saudi Arabia helped Bahrain crush the uprising in their streets in 2011, the west didn’t bat an eye because both of these countries are western allies and the west depends on their oil.
Over the years, the US has repeatately, and rightfully so, accused Russia of human rights violations.
But as we learned from Snowden and Manning, the US is not afraid to violate human rights itself either.
With a law banning “homosexual propaganda”, the imprisonment of two Pussy Riot members, the raids on NGO’s and the charges against lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, Russia clearly does not concern itself with protecting human rights.
However, when the opportunity presented itself to cross it’s political rival by granting Edward Snowden asyllum, it gratefully did so while portraying itself as a patron of human rights.
In addition, in 2008, although not entirely unprovoked, Russia invaded Georgia without any kind of UN approval. This invasion was quite similar to the US planned attack on Syria that Putin is condemning.
There are many examples of states applying international law selectively instead of universal.
It seems like the UNSC will survive for now, but if this trend continues, I think, in the long run, there’s the risk of international law becoming obsolete.
If the trust in international law dwindles, new arms races and more armed conflicts could occur.