China's morality-free pragmatism, Russia's habitual antagonism, South Africa's shameful cowardice -- these are the three most appalling responses to the British and U.S. attempts to place sanctions on Zimbabwe and its president-cum-tyrant, Robert Mugabe. China and Russia vetoed a proposal that would have barred Zimbabwe from receiving weapon shipments, frozen Robert Mugabe's foreign assets, and restricted his travel. Also voting against that resolution was the colorful dictatorial throng of Libya, Vietnam -- and South Africa.
Even if Western morality comes to bear only when there is little to lose, economically, or some other self-interest is involved, the British/American action was and is the right thing to do, and it's the least that should be done. The vetoes and no-votes raise many worrying questions. Less for Vietnam, a peon of China's, or Libya -- whose self-interest in protecting African dictators governs their behavior. China proves that even the Olympics can't deter it in its stubbornly amoral pursuit of economic interest in Africa. Troubling, but not unexpected.
Most perturbing are the stance of Russia and South Africa. The former for showing the Janus-faced post-Putin regime. Dmitry Medvedev, who told Zalmay Khalilzad at the G-8 summit in Japan that Russia could support sanctions, turns out to be the pleasant, ambiguously pro-Western face of an antagonistic Russia steered by Prime Minister Putin and stuck in its post-Stalinesque ways.
South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, who has now brought Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai into talks on "power sharing," is hardly an honest broker. Mbeki, despite the woes his own country experiences because of the acute humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, remains, somewhat inexplicably, a stalwart supporter of Mugabe's. To ask him to negotiate between Mugabe's Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) seems -- exaggeration notwithstanding -- akin to asking Vidkun Quisling to negotiate between Germany and Edvard Benes. In any case, political talk will prove largely useless, because the symbiosis of Mugabe and the military is a power that won't budge with just a few political concessions.
There is a more than a touch of deja vu in the situation, which seems ripped from 1965: Marxist/leftist regimes feigning solidarity with the "legitimate aspirations" of the African peoples against the fading Western "colonial oppressors." It is as if the UK had not opposed the (white) unilateralists in the former Rhodesia, or the U.S. had not (along with many multinationals doing business in South Africa) seen the light and helped nudge apartheid off the world stage. The last thing Africa needs is a revival of the Cold War proxy battles between Marxism and Capitalism, which helped delay Africa's postcolonial rebirth by a generation, or more.
The official excuse for blocking sanctions against "Mugabeism" is that the Zimbabwean crisis is an internal one, and the UN is designed to resolve cross-national problems. The former assertion is factually false, as Zimbabwean refuges pour across the border into South Africa, which in turn is increasingly hostile to its "guests" to the point of violence in some cases. Further, the total collapse of Zimbabwe's economy has region-wide, if not continent-wide, ramifications, none of them good. Finally, if another reason is needed, Zimbabwe was nurtured into existence by Britain and the Commonwealth to set an example for the continent: that racial domination was a thing of the past, and the democratic principles and Anglo-American political structures, not dictatorial thuggery, were the key to Africa's future.
If the Western model of freedom and representative government fails in Zimbabwe (as it indeed has, until regime change occurs), and hangs by a thread at times in South Africa, what African nation will retain the courage to fight against tyranny, military or civilian, foreign or domestic?
The Zimbabwe crisis is the world's crisis. That is well known to Russia and China, who shamelessly exploit it for short-term (and very minor) geopolitical advantage. It is known too in South Africa, which wants the exclusive right to choose which foreign interests it will obey, all the while pretending to be "in charge" of the situation. Time to call the bluff: public and private sanctions across the board, implemented by each nation in turn if necessary, dramatizing in the process another sterling example of the UN talking big and carrying the smallest of all sticks.