Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 175

Foreign Minister Ivanov, not unexpectedly, also sounded off on international military interventions during his September 21 address. He appeared in part to embrace a call by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who earlier this week urged the international community to intervene more decisively on behalf of peoples badly maltreated by their own governments. But Ivanov’s accent on the primacy of national sovereignty and the inviolability of borders, his call for the UN to move “resolutely to put an end to all manifestations of separatism” and his insistence on UN Security Council approval of all international peacekeeping efforts, suggested that Moscow will be a backer of humanitarian interventions only when it suits Russia’s needs.

During a separate conversation with the UN Secretary General on Tuesday, Ivanov reportedly voiced anew Moscow’s criticisms of NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia. It was not clear, however, whether he addressed the issue of Russia’s earlier determination to ensure that the Security Council did not approve proposed NATO military action in the Balkans. In his own remarks on Monday, Annan had suggested that obstructionism of that sort was one of several serious impediments to effective action by the world community in carrying out humanitarian interventions (AP, Russian agencies, September 21).

In remarks delivered to the UN General Assembly yesterday, moreover, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan went even farther than Ivanov had in emphasizing the primacy of national sovereignty considerations. Tang sharply rejected the arguments in favor of humanitarian interventions offered by Annan and Western leaders. He described the NATO air war against Yugoslavia without UN Security Council approval as an “ominous precedent,” and told the assembly that “we are opposed to the use of force under whatever pretext.” He said that “the issue of human rights is, in essence, an internal affair of a country and should be addressed mainly by the government in question” (Reuters, September 22).

Tang’s remarks reflect Beijing’s professed fear that repressive actions directed by Chinese authorities against China’s own restive minorities could be used as a pretext for a military intervention by the West. Russia has used the same argument with respect to military operations in Chechnya and the Caucasus region. The similarities in the Russian and Chinese positions, together with their joint actions on related issues in recent months, suggest that the principle of humanitarian interventions will win no easy approval in the UN Security Council.