Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 14:26 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 14:26 | SYDNEY

Values do matter


Andrew Shearer

14 July 2008 18:29

At a time when many around the world are talking hopefully of a golden new era of multilateralism following the departure of the Bush Administration, perhaps the rejection by the UN Security Council of targeted sanctions against the odious Mugabe regime should serve as a timely wake-up call.

Few would argue that the proposed sanctions  – an embargo on arms shipments to Mugabe’s murdering thugs and a travel and asset ban on senior regime figures – were not proportionate and entirely justified in light of recent events in Zimbabwe. But an unholy alliance of China and Russia – with Libya, South Africa, and Vietnam tagging along – combined to prevent the world’s supposedly pre-eminent council from taking even these modest steps. (Indonesia, to its credit, at least abstained.) As a result of the Sino-Russian veto, Mugabe has, grotesquely, been able to claim an improbable diplomatic victory.

Many, no doubt, will be quick to accuse Britain and the US of hypocrisy, or blame them for over-reaching and misreading the politics of the Security Council. But let’s attribute blame where it really belongs.

Russia may have been the ring-leader – its veto was reportedly at odds with assurances of support given as recently as the G8 meeting in Hokkaido and comes on top of a series of increasingly worrying moves, which now include suggestions Moscow may again target Western Europe with nuclear weapons. Russia’s increasingly muscular and unpredictable behaviour – fuelled by rampant energy prices – looms as a major challenge for the incoming US administration and the world more broadly.

It is hard to imagine China having cast a veto without Russian cover, but hiding behind Moscow doesn’t excuse Beijing’s decision. Consistent with its stated aim of ‘a harmonious world’, China is going to great pains to present a positive global image. Recent Chinese diplomacy on North Korea and peacekeeping contributions, including in Sudan, deserve credit. Chinese officials are sparing no effort to project the best possible impression of their country during the Olympics.

But blocking even relatively mild action by the Security Council throws into question whether Beijing is serious about being seen as a responsible stakeholder – especially when it is accompanied by outmoded Westphalian excuses about non-interference in internal affairs. Confronted by the Security Council vote, the recent attempted arms shipment to Zimbabwe, and now BBC reports of embargo-breaking Chinese military assistance to Sudan’s government in Dafur, observers are entitled to ask whether ‘smile’ diplomacy and a highly sanitised Olympic Games aren’t just a cynical mask for the same old authoritarian China. Hopefully not, and it is probably too early to say. But I trust that the Australian Government has made representations in Beijing to make its displeasure about the Zimbabwe vote clear.

Many commentators caution that proposals such as Senator McCain’s League of Democracies and the now-shelved Quadrilateral Dialogue risk unintentionally dividing the world into opposing ideological blocs. But last week’s dismaying vote in New York gives pause for thought. Who’s really drawing the dividing lines here?

Hard-core realists might argue that what we are seeing is nothing more than states acting rationally and even legitimately to protect their economic and political equities. But maybe Bob Kagan is more right than we might have hoped, and we really are seeing the emergence of another serious authoritarian challenge to the liberal order which has underpinned over 50 years of relative peace and stability.