The Moscow-Beijing Alliance in UN Security Council and the Future of BiH

Earlier this month, the International Herald Tribune published an enlightening article by Professor Minxhin Pei of Claremont-McKenna College in California.[1] His op-ed, “Why Beijing Votes with Moscow,” describes and explains the collaborative axis in the UN Security Council between Russia and China in defense of fellow dictatorships and against sanctions and humanitarian intervention. It likewise carries an important lesson for the West and the European Union in particular.

Dr. Pei writes that China has cast a veto only eight times since it entered the UN in 1971. Two of these vetoes were cast in the last year over Syria, a country in which China has no major strategic or commercial interest. Why, then, did it cast its veto? According to Dr. Pei:

“The Russia-China axis of obstruction at the Security Council has now become a critical variable in the council’s decision-making process. The two countries seem to have reached a strategic understanding: they will act to defy the West together, so that neither might look isolated. China will defer to Russia on matters more critical to Moscow (such as Syria) while Russia will do the same on issues China cares about (such as Zimbabwe or Burma).”

This Beijing-Moscow axis has major implications globally, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Once before, China has cast a veto directly affecting the Western Balkans, torpedoing the extension of UNPREDEP in Macedonia in 1998, after Skopje’s recognition of Taiwan in exchange for development aid. This act reduced deterrence against Milošević’s Serbia at a time when war was escalating in neighboring Kosovo. Despite having an embassy and visible military mission in Sarajevo, Beijing has no deep-seated interests in BiH. Russia, however, is far more engaged. The Russian Embassy here and the Foreign Ministry in Moscow have become increasingly open in their backing of RS President Milorad Dodik’s effort to hollow-out state institutions and to return to, as the ambassador put it recently (echoing Dodik), the letter, not the spirit, of Dayton.[2] China would very likely align itself with any Russian position regarding BiH.

The vestigial EU military force in BiH, EUFOR, along with NATO’s Headquarters, holds a Chapter 7 peace enforcement mandate from the UN Security Council to enforce the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia 16 years ago. Yet the Brussels bureaucracy and the main continental member states of the EU are distinctly unenthusiastic about upholding this responsibility, reducing this force to a level where it is unable to either to deter or react to even the most modest contingencies – or even effectively to defend itself.[3] But so long as the mandate exists, the EU and NATO could deploy reinforcements on this platform without the need to ask permission from Russia, China, or anyone else in the UNSC.

Yet the renewal of EUFOR’s Chapter 7 mandate, due in November, is threatened from within the EU’s own ranks. Should Berlin, Paris and Rome again press for an end to the already anemic EUFOR mandate, which they all have advocated within the EU, the Moscow-Beijing alliance in the Security Council described by Dr. Pei virtually ensures this door is closed forever. This would mean that Western intervention in response to any resumption in hostilities – no longer an unthinkable proposition due to the demonstrated lack of Western will to resist the current political dynamic – would either be blocked altogether or require bypassing the UN, which the legalistic “soft power” ideologists of the EU would abhor. The fact that these governments might willingly place themselves in such a position regarding a country soon to be literally at the Union’s doorstep stands as yet another encapsulation of the EU’s lack of strategic vision and the hollowness of its alleged Common Foreign and Security Policy.


Kurt Bassuener is Co-Founder and Senior Associate of the Democratization Policy Council, a global initiative for accountability in democracy promotion. He lives in Sarajevo

[1] Minxin Pei, “Why Beijing votes with Moscow,” New York Times, Feb. 7, 2012 at

[2] See “Dayton is word and not spirit,” Oslododjenje, Feb. 17, 2012 at,

[3] See “Assessing the potential for renewed ethnic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina: a security risk analysis,” by Vlado Azinović, Kurt Bassuener and Bodo Weber, Atlantic Initiative and Democratization Policy Council, Sarajevo, 2011 at

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