A Talking Cure for Syria
Gareth Evans, Project Syndicate
29 May 2013
Project Syndicate the world’s largest op-ed with commentaries from eminent leaders, experts and thinkers from around the world in government, business, science, research, and academia.
Gareth Evans is an international policymaker, former Australian Foreign Minister, and lawyer, He also served as a co-Chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS).
The proposal by the United States and Russia to hold a diplomatic conference to end the carnage in Syria deserves a less skeptical reaction than it has received. While it will be difficult to get all of the relevant parties to the table in Geneva any time soon, much less to ensure an outcome that will stick, diplomacy is the only game left. As much as one might wish otherwise, every other policy option canvassed so far is wrong in principle, nonviable in practice, unlikely to be effective, or bound to increase rather than diminish suffering.
After two years of civil war, with no decisive military victory by either side in sight, the situation could not be more desperate. (…)
Continued international paralysis is indefensible. Inaction would ignite fires throughout the Middle East, and would violate the international community’s now-accepted , through timely and decisive collective action, populations at risk of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other major crimes against humanity and war crimes.
That principle, unanimously agreed by the UN General Assembly in 2005, has been successfully invoked elsewhere (...). (…) But how can it be applied to the mess now in Syria? (…)
It is too late now for non-military tools of coercion to have much effect, although Security Council threats of International Criminal Court prosecution for atrocity crimes – including any use of chemical weapons – must remain on the table. (…)
There are many more enthusiasts for a more calibrated military intervention, designed to establish one or more no-fly zones, and maybe safe havens and humanitarian corridors on the ground. In the early days of the crisis, it was argued that, given the strength of the regime’s air defenses and ground forces, even these limited objectives could not be achieved without fighting an all-out war – and thus causing a net increase in human suffering.
With most of the country now ablaze, this argument is less convincing. But it remains the case that there are no obvious takers for a military role, partly because of the scale, difficulty, and risk of the commitment required, and partly because of the likely political and legal costs, given the minimal prospect of Security Council endorsement.
The United Kingdom and France are pressing hard for indirect military intervention: supplying arms to the rebel side, in their view, would be a low-cost, low-risk, potentially high-return option. And the European Union has now lifted its ban. But the US is rightly cautious. A troubling proportion of the opposition forces are Islamic extremists, and there is no guarantee that weapons deliveries will stay out of their hands. (…)
If the rationale for arming the opposition is not so much to win the war as to weaken the government’s resistance to negotiation, it is arguable that the elements of a “hurting stalemate” are already in place, with more weapons likely to produce nothing but more fighting and more casualties. (…)
What is new, and encouraging, about the events of the last month is that Russia has found enough common ground with the US – in their mutual anxiety about the rising influence of radical Islam in an increasingly fragmented and volatile region – to be prepared at last to do some squeezing.
Painful concessions will be required from both sides if the Geneva conference is even to convene, let alone reach agreement on a cease-fire and transitional administration. It is encouraging that the US, following talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, seems prepared to accept a role for senior Assad regime members in any settlement, and that constructive proposals are starting to emerge from at least some opposition quarters.
Compromise (…) has always been the stuff of which peace is made. It has never been more necessary than it is now in Syria.
Read Gareth Evans' full article.