The February 2011 UN veto of Russia and China in the Syria case

A Russian perspective of the two-level game

Essay, 2012

17 Pages, Grade: A



After several days of negotiations, on February 4th 2012, Russia and China vetoed an Arab-West plan in the United Nations (UN) Security Council (SC). The plan called for Syria’s President Bashar al Assad to step down. Thirteen other members of the SC voted in favor of the resolution. This was the second time within five months that Russia vetoed a resolution on Syria in cahoots with China. In October 2011, they had both rejected a European draft to condemn Syria for its riposte to violence within its country (Bin, 2012). Russia, in particular, has often used the outcome of the Libyan resolution as a justification for its Syria vetoes. In Libya, the international community had agreed to a military intervention (resolution 1973/2011) to protect Libyan civilians. Russia claimed that the initial demands for a rapid cease-fire had turned into a fully-fledged civil war. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) took part in bombardments to support the regime change, an action decried by Russia, as not identified as a UN key task. Western diplomats on the other hand, claimed that the consequences of the resolution on Libya had been clearly laid out before the vote in March (MacFarquhar, 2001). This paper applies the two level game theory of Robert Putnam, and the foreign policy (FP) decision-making model by Margaret G. Hermann and Charles F. Hermann. Its aim is to provide evidence to substantiate the hypothesis that domestic Russian interests were the driving factor behind the double SC vetoes and that China had echoed the move to honor its strategic partnership agreement with Russia.

Firstly, the paper will briefly explain the two-level game theory as well as the foreign policy decision-making model. Secondly, will follow an analysis of the international environment (level one) which influenced the veto decision. Thirdly, an investigation of the domestic game (level two) will be carried out, using the Hermann model before drawing to a conclusion.

The lack of access to detailed decision making protocols and the haziness surrounding the relevant domestic decision makers in Russia, have made it impossible to clearly identify the members of the ultimate decision making unit and the level one rationale for the Syria veto. One can assume, that in all likelihood, a single group composed of different players within the Russian elite, influenced the decision. China’s exact interests or its reasons to use its veto power remain undefined. It seems to be relatively safe to claim that Russia was the driving factor behind the veto and that China followed suit. The paper concludes that Russia’s national security concerns and its wish to be recognized once more as a great power, (this implies some anti- western feelings) were, in all likelihood, the important reasons behind the veto.

Two-level game theory and the foreign policy decision making model

Putnam’s two-level or nested game tackles the issue as to whether international relations or domestic politics are the determinative factors that form FP. It is based on the findings that there are no unitary national actors. It would be inaccurate to see government decisions as an outcome of unified views. The theory sets apart the international and the domestic levels. Different national groups might exert pressure on the government to adopt the policies that they favor. Politicians who want to stay in power therefore constantly need to form new coalitions among the various powerful groups whilst developing new policies. On the international scene, contrary to popular belief, the focal point rests, not on the nation’s interests, but on a strategy to make the domestic game favor the ruling authority and keep the government in power. FP decision makers therefore constantly need to consider domestic and international pressures and try to juggle them. The national level plays such a key role to the survival of the government that leaders will be most sensitive to domestic politics. Level one of the theory refers to international negotiations whereas level two touches on the domestic ramification process (Putnam, 1988).

The Hermann model is a polished version of the Easton Model. It tries to break up the political system’s black box and identify the main actors who influence the decision making process that leads to FP outputs. The focus of the Hermann model is not on which problems are addressed but on who deals with them and how the process to produce an output, affects the nature of the decision. Consequently, the theory centers on identifying the ultimate/authoritative decision unit (UDU) in order to be able to examine how it is operating. The UDU is defined as a set of authorities that has the power to deliver resources to remedy a specific problem. It cannot be contested without significant costs being incurred. The theory suggests three possible decision making units and provides various decision-making trees that help to identify the relevant UDU. It also helps to define the nature of the UDU and can to a certain degree, predict the general features of the expected process outcomes (Hermann, 2001).

Level one: Draft resolution S/2012/77

This paper states that the detailed deliberation about the UN veto might not be very useful in itself to grasp Russia’s level one game. Most argumentations might be diplomatic and not reveal the real motivation behind Russia’s veto. An analysis of Russian foreign policy history and of its partnership with the West could prove more fruitful.

Since the collapse of the Soviet empire in the 90ties, Russia has embarked on a process of self-definition that includes the definition of Russia’s principal national FP interests. In the early 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin, democratization and integration with the West were a priority. By the mid 1990s, the strong domestic FP skepticism and opposition shaped the approach into a more assertive and independent modus operandi (Mankoff, 2012). In its first FP concept, during the Yeltsin presidency, Russia planned a strategic partnership with the West. The USA and Europe were its main partners. Russia was however caught up in an independence struggle and blighted with a variety of domestic social, economic and political problems. It proved difficult for Russia to allocate the necessary resources and attention to develop a coherent FP approach as it was struggling on the domestic front. A local opposition coalition, made of three major groups, namely the military, the industrial managers and various political factions politicized the strategic partnership with the West. Each one of them advocated its own interests but the common aim was to ascertain a more assertive and independent Russian FP as well a strong central state. Opponents held the view that the West preferred a weak and poor Russia. They pointed out that the shock therapy, the conditional loans and the meager Western investments had had a negative impact on the Russian economy. The expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its unilateral intervention in Bosnia did reinforce the perception that Russia was facing a unipolar world order, dominated by the USA and its Western allies. The appointment of Yevgeniy Primakov as Foreign Minister in 1996, led to the emergence of a new Russian FP concept, based on multi-polarity. It attempted to replace the unipolar world order by an anti-American axis to counterbalance US dominance. The Russian elite unified behind this concept. Strategic partnerships were developed with India, China and Western Europe while the cooperation with the US continued. The next step was to develop the ‘multi-vector’ approach, thus embracing the Eurasian identity of Russia. The core concept aimed at strengthening good neighborly relations with all countries in order to ensure favorable external conditions for Russia’s development. The new policy targeted the USA, the EU, individual European countries, Asian partners and Asian Pacific countries. There emerged a significant underlying notion that cooperation and dialogue were based on international protocols and the United Nation (UN) norms rather than on the domination of the strongest nation. As it started to export energy in optimum price conditions, it became less reliant on other countries and more independent from the West. An important milestone furthering development of Russian FP was crossed after the Kosovo crisis. NATO’s unilateral intervention broke international norms and protocols on which Russia had based its FP, thus increasing the skepticism towards the West. It was seen as an act of US hegemony. The US Iraq intervention in 2003 did confirm Russia’s perception that force was the most efficient problem solver and that the rule of law was ineffective. Russia reassessed the concept of force in international relations and gave its own military strength, a higher priority in its national security strategy. The best way to protect itself from US and Western hegemony was to become an economically strong and independent nation. It meant retaining as much sovereignty as possible and reducing outside interference. The Western call for more democratization spelt danger not only to Russia’s own interests but also to a wider regional stability. Russia needed stability in its frontiers to generate economic development. The democratization process in its ‘near abroad’ had created instability and restrained Russia’s ability to pursue its own FP priorities. (Monaghan, 2006).The Russian veto in Syria translates therefore into much more than just an objection to a UN intervention in Syria. It is to be read as a general anti -Western stand and a wish to play a more important role in the level one game. The history of Russian development with the West makes its more Western critical position seem rational.


Excerpt out of 17 pages


The February 2011 UN veto of Russia and China in the Syria case
A Russian perspective of the two-level game
Webster University  (International Relations)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
511 KB
Syria, UN, veto, Russia, China, UN Security Council, S/2012/77, Putnam, two level game
Quote paper
Marcel Reymond (Author), 2012, The February 2011 UN veto of Russia and China in the Syria case, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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