BRIC Abstention on 'No-Fly Zone' Sets Tone: Analysts

Analysts are warning that the decision of the BRIC nations not to support the no-fly zone in Libya is an indication that in years to come Gaddafi-like dictators will find it easier to wage war on their people without external intervention.

An RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft is prepared for launch, the first UK air combat mission in support of UN Resolution 1973, at RAF Marham on March 19, 2011 in Norfolk, England.
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An RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft is prepared for launch, the first UK air combat mission in support of UN Resolution 1973, at RAF Marham on March 19, 2011 in Norfolk, England.

"It’s clear that the bar for military action is getting higher and higher," says Ian Bremmer, President of New York-based consultancy Eurasia. "Right now Gaddafi has no friends on the world stage, except Chavez. Libya is even an oil-producing nation, but it’s taken weeks to get some action."

Investors believe Brazil, Russia, India and China will be the new economic Titans, but so far BRIC nations either cannot or will not provide leadership.

Each of these four nations is currently sitting on the U.N. Security Council, yet each abstained from voting on Resolution 1973 that opened the way for military intervention.

Russia and China

Vladamir Putin says the resolution was a "medieval call for crusades." China says it abstained at the request of its friends in the Middle East and Africa (presumably the ones that supply oil and commodities), and it’s true both have sought to establish positions of non-interference.

But they also occupy two of the five permanent seats on the Security Council, which means each has an absolute veto. They could have destroyed plans for the no-fly zone, but they chose not to.

"Vetoing is an expression of leadership," says Ian Bremmer, "but they’d rather have no responsibility, sit on the sidelines, and complain if or when something goes wrong."

Brazil and India

Brazil and India currently hold rotating Security Council seats of two years duration. Both are campaigning for permanent ones. Critics say they might have abstained in order demonstrate to the U.N. General Assembly what great counterweights they could be against the West.

But the more charitable suggestion is that India and Brazil are still struggling to develop their diplomatic positioning on the world stage.

India knows it’s non-interventionist. Brazil however is so new to even G8 conferences it may not have thought past projecting a "honeyed" image of itself.

Plus it’s a brave nation that publically stands out against military action by the United States, particularly when your vote is not a veto.

UK, France and Germany

In Europe it's a widely held view that the Obama administration is only taking action against Libya because the UK and France said they would.

"The US was late to the game," says Daniel Gros at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. "Washington was shamed into action by Paris and London."

It’s no great surprise the UK and France so readily jumped to action. Europe has more skin in the game than America. Its colonial past riddles North Africa. It’s oil companies have assets in Libya that risk being nationalized. And geography dictates that North Africa's refugees easily become Europe's humanitarian problem.

After Tony Blair’s "success" in Bosnia, David Cameron is only the latest British Prime Minister to believe it’s the West's duty to protect and intervene.

The current President of France also believes in spreading democracy. Nicolas Sarkozy also hopes a swashbuckling performance by its military at his decree will turn around his poll ratings in advance of next year’s Presidential Election.

"Also bear in mind that the French elite is heavily connected to and invested in France’s former colonies of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco," says Daniel Gros. "So Libya is the one place it can be seen to intervene without loss of national interest."

In fact two weeks ago Sarkozy sacked his Foreign Minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, for not only vacationing in Tunisia at the height of the protests but apparently offering its ruling elite French expertise in riot control.

Germany also remains absent from the action over Libya after it too abstained at the U.N. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s foreign minister had quickly ruled out action in the belief that voters — still shamed by its Nazi Era — did not want to see its army operating outside its borders. But that may have proven to be a major political mistake. Merkel was backtracking today, increasingly isolated in Europe.