When last week’s UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was passed – enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and authorising member states to “take all necessary measures” to “protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack” – only five countries chose to abstain, rather than support it.
Given the consensual nature of the exchanges in this afternoon’s Commons debate, it’s worth seeking out the views of Brazil, Russia, India, China and Germany, whose early reservations may soon become more commonplace. Whilst it could be argued (with the exception of Germany) that they have an anti-west foreign policy agenda, or corrupt regimes to protect, many of the points they make are being echoed throughout the general populace.
So, here is our rundown of who abstained, and why.
Brazil’s permanent representative to the UN, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, said:
We are not convinced that the use of force as provided for in operative paragraph 4 of the present resolution will lead to the realisation of our common objective – the immediate end of violence and the protection of civilians.
UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin stated:
We participated actively in the discussions on the draft resolution. Unfortunately, work on this document was not in keeping with the Security Council’s standing practice . . . In essence, a whole range of questions raised by the Russian Federation and other Security Council members remained unanswered, questions which were both concrete and legitimate, questions regarding how the no-fly zone would be enforced, what the rules of engagement would be, and limits to the use of force would be. Furthermore, the draft was morphing before our very eyes, transcending the League of Arab States’ initial stated concepts . . . Introduced into the text were provisions potentially opening the door to large-scale military intervention. Through the negotiations of the draft, statements claiming an absence of any such intention were heard. We take note of these.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has since said that he is “concerned about the ease with which it has been decided to use violence” and that the resolution reminded him of “medieval calls for crusades”.
Deputy Ambassador to the UN Manjeev Singh Puri said:
We do not have clarity about details of enforcement measures, including who and with what asset will participate and how these measures will be exactly carried out . . . The financial measures that are proposed in the resolution could impact, directly or through indirect routes, ongoing trade and investment activities of a number of member states thereby adversely affecting the economic interests of the Libyan people and others dependent on these trade and economic ties . . . Moreover, we had to ensure that the measures will mitigate – and not exacerbate – an already difficult situation for the people of Libya. Clarity in the resolution on any spillover effects of these measures would have been very important.
Of the supposedly indiscriminate air attacks that have been taking place over the past few days, a New Delhi statement said:
India views with grave concern the continuing violence, strife and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya . . . It regrets the air strikes that are taking place. The measures adopted should mitigate and not exacerbate an already difficult situation for the people of Libya.
UN Ambassador Li Baodong stated:
In the Security Council’s consultations on Resolution 1973, we and some other council members asked some specific questions. However, regrettably, many of those questions failed to be clarified or answered. China has serious difficulty with part of the resolution.
China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, could have blocked the resolution altogether, but because it attached “great importance to the relevant decision by the 22-member Arab League on the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya” (the League initially supported the motion), the Chinese chose merely to abstain instead.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Jiang Yu, explained:
We oppose the use of force in international relations and have serious reservations with part of the resolution.
However, now that the Arab League has criticised the air strikes, claiming they are beyond the remit of the resolution, China could step up the rhetoric. Jiang Yu has already said that “China has noted the latest developments in Libya and expresses regret over the military attacks on Libya”.
This is the most interesting case, as Germany was the only EU member state to abstain. It would seem that memories of war and imperialism are still too contentious when handling a situation that actually or potentially involves both.
UN Ambassador Peter Wittig said:
We should not enter a military confrontation on the optimistic assumption that quick results with few casualties will be achieved.
Whilst Wittig stated that Germany recognised the plight of the Libyan people, he also argued that Berlin sees “the danger of being drawn into a protracted military conflict”.
Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, defended his country’s position:
The impression that Germany is isolated in Europe or the international community is completely wrong . . . Many other countries in the European Union not only understand our position, not only respect it, but also share it.