Five new countries yesterday joined a UN Security Council riven by one of the biggest international splits in years on how to handle the Arab Spring uprisings.
Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo started two-year terms on the council which has been wounded by air strikes in Libya and is battling over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s deadly crackdown in Syria. Growing tensions around Iran add to the nerves on the 15-member body.
“It is like the Cold War,” one Western diplomat said.
Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said the council’s work could be “seriously hurt” if the tensions persist.
Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, passed in February and March last year, and which ordered sanctions and allowed air strikes to protect Libyan civilians sparked the hostilities.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the resolutions “historic.”
Russia, China and a group of council allies, including South Africa, India and Brazil, which has just left the council, say NATO exceeded the UN mandate with the air strikes and pursued “regime change” against former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
The UK, France and the US say their action saved tens of thousands of lives.
Russia and China vetoed a European resolution condemning the violence in Syria, saying it would be the first step toward Libya-style military action against Assad. Western nations say those who blocked the resolution share responsibility for the 5,000-plus deaths in Syria estimated by the UN.
Russia has since proposed its own resolution, condemning violence by the government and opposition.
Western nations say the text is “unbalanced” and three negotiation sessions this week made no progress, diplomats said.
Handling Iran’s nuclear drive is also deadlocked at the UN council, with Russia and China again indicating that they will not support tougher sanctions against the Islamic state. They are again blaming the Libya “backlash.”
Some diplomats say the council atmosphere is the worst since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, some even say it is like going back to the Cold War.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Europe’s Syria resolution had been blocked for “bogus” reasons by countries “who have other interests and agendas in Syria to the council’s responsibility for protecting civilians.”
“Call it a backlash, call it the Libya hangover. It will be a difficult 2012,” another senior Western envoy said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is not easy to see how we can get things done when the council is blocked like this.”