With Friends Like Syria ...
Canada should cast its vote carefully at the Security Council
by Alexander Rose
August 23, 2001
How's this for strange bedfellows: Canada is considering backing Syria's bid for a seat on the Security Council. Syria? Security Council? That's like putting Sudan on the UN Human Rights Committee. (Oh, wait. It is.) However, for Canada, a country that adheres to the legal letter and spirit of the UN Charter, to back Syria would be sailing pretty close to the wind.
According to Chapter V, Article 23 of the UN Charter, the General Assembly elects the 10 non-permanent Security Council members. In so doing, "due regard" must be "specially paid" to the proposed country's "contribution ... to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization." The "other purposes" bit is a little unclear, but a foreign affairs department spokeswoman has clarified that Canada's "decision will be primarily on our assessment of the value of the country's expected contribution to the Security Council, the country's domestic situation and our overall bilateral relationship, including the extent to which they share our values and priorities."
So, Ottawa has four yardsticks with which to measure Syria's performance before casting its vote in the General Assembly. First, does Syria contribute to peace and security; secondly, is Syria's expected contribution to the Security Council likely to be beneficial; thirdly, what is its domestic situation; and lastly, does it share Canadian "values and priorities" to any extent?
The answers, briefly, are: No, no, no, no.
On the peace and security front, Syria has been, and continues to be, one of the leading instigators of Middle Eastern war, the physical annihilation of Israel and expansionist pan-Arab Ba'athist nationalism. Syria today foments hostile Hezbollah activity in Lebanon and has, following the spat between the late President Hafez al-Assad and Yasser Arafat over the latter's signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, resurrected its links to the most radical rejectionist elements in the Palestinian Authority. In late March, at the Arab Summit in Amman, President Bashar al-Assad made Damascus's objective very clear indeed: "The Syrian method and logic leads to one and one only clear and defined goal -- the return of Arab rights in their entirety ... [This does] not lead to concessions." Returning rights "in their entirety" is common code for destruction of Israel.
When it comes to judging Syria's potential contribution, it is improbable that Damascus will be an objective observer of the Middle Eastern situation. The troubled Israeli-Lebanese border, the Golan Heights and Iraqi sanctions all fall within the Security Council's purview. In any case, because it has broken Security Council sanctions resolutions by illegally opening an oil pipeline to Iraq, Damascus should be disbarred from candidacy.
As for Syria's "domestic situation," Bashar has introduced the tiniest dollop of free-market reforms, released some political prisoners out of the thousands in jail and allowed the publication of a limited number of non-state newspapers. That's it.
Of course, martial law (in place since 1963) has not been lifted, those lucky political prisoners are being watched by the omnipresent secret police (as is everybody else), it was either a few free-market reforms or total economic meltdown, and anyone who publishes a non-state newspaper can only do so under the aegis of one of the "political parties" aligned with the ruling Ba'ath regime.
Unless Ottawa has taken a very queer turn lately, Syrian "values and priorities" are not altogether consonant with Canada's. Bashar's recent embarrassment of the Pope during his visit (the Syrian leader maniacally declaimed on Jewish deicide as John Paul II looked on helplessly), his strange assertions that Jews are "worse than Nazis" and the incessant anti-Semitism in Syrian school textbooks and media do not sound like the kind of values our multicultural government usually encourages.
Or what about Syria's stranglehold on Lebanon? Damascus played a central role in the Lebanese wars and maintains some 25,000 soldiers and intelligence agents there. The servile and corrupt puppets in Beirut answer directly to Syria, the Ba'athist regime uses Lebanese banks for its slush funds, people frequently "disappear," Damascus stirs up trouble between the factions, and the Beka'a Valley is one of the world's great drug routes. Shouldn't it be one of Canada's priorities to liberate Lebanon, not help keep it enslaved? Perhaps, too, Ottawa might raise questions regarding the tens of thousands of Palestinians relegated to terrible camps in Syria and Lebanon.
And lest we forget, Syria is an official and proud state sponsor of terrorism, providing cash and safehouses for several exceedingly murderous groups.
At the end of the day, Syria is probably going to become a Security Council member, mainly owing to Arab and African support, as well as that of France, China and Russia. So, shouldn't Canada make a stand, refuse the coward's way out of "abstaining," and vote resolutely against?