The European members of the Security Council maintained a high degree of unity and often took the initiative over Syria at the Security Council but could not sway Russia and China.
The European members of the UNSC in 2012 – France, Germany, Portugal, and the UK – invested a great deal in resolving the Syrian crisis in the first half of 2012 but became increasingly disillusioned as the year progressed. European officials were initially much keener on the “UN route” than their American counterparts, who did not believe Russia would be willing to bargain.
In February, the European members of the UNSC tabled a resolution effectively calling for President Bashar al-Assad to resign. Russia’s ambassador to the UN signalled willingness to compromise but reversed course after instructions from Moscow. China vetoed the resolution along with Russia. As the crisis continued, British and French officials hoped that China might split with Russia over Syria, but this proved impossible. The UNSC gave unanimous support to Kofi Annan’s mediation efforts and a small UN peacekeeping deployment, but he made little progress. France, the UK, and the US tried to negotiate with Russia and China outside formal UNSC structures, culminating in a weak agreement on a political transition process for Syria in June. In July, the Europeans and the US supported a further UNSC resolution putting pressure on Assad, but China and Russia once again cast their vetoes. Annan resigned in August.
Even after that, France tried to keep talks at the UN alive and led a ministerial meeting of the UNSC in August. France’s Laurent Fabius and the UK’s William Hague were the only foreign ministers to attend. Thereafter France, followed by the UK, shifted away from the UN, increasing support to the rebels. European officials have given lukewarm support to Annan’s replacement as UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. The UN may still have a role in stabilising Syria after the fall of Assad. The EEAS deserves credit for rapidly providing technical assistance to the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Syria in April and May. But Europe’s overall investment in UNSC diplomacy over Syria delivered painfully little in 2012.