This is kind of interesting. Neither China nor Russia have been shy about using their Security Council vetoes in defense of either regional interests, or in reference to particular issue areas (secessionist movements, for example) that they find politically threatening. However, I think it’s fair to say that Russia and China haven’t gone out of their way to pick Security Council fights against the US and its coalition. I understand that there are some (relatively minor) trade connections between Zimbabwe and China, but the Russian veto, which appears to have precipitated the Chinese veto, doesn’t appear to be connected with the merits of the case at all. Rather, I think that the Russians are sending the US a message: We are so unhappy about missile defense (among other things) that we are now prepared to monkey wrench unconnected diplomatic projects. This interdependence of interest/dispute was characteristic of the Cold War, but has been much rarer in the past two decades.
Another way to put this is that there are four potential Russian Security Council stances:
- Russia will take risks to support the US.
- Russia will defend its own interests with its veto, but not go out of its way to oppose the US.
- Russia will go out of its way to oppose the US in ways that don’t incur substantial risk.
- Russia will take risks to oppose the US.
I think we’re still a long way from the Cold War standard of 4, and we’ve never really been at 1 (for any extended period of time), but this vote seems to herald a shift from 2 (which has been standard for the past 18 years or so) to 3.