Can Lakhdar Brahimi Save Syria?

Can Lakhdar Brahimi, the new international envoy to Syria, fix the Syrian crisis, a complex war that foiled even veteran United Nations diplomat Kofi Annan? Nassif Hitti analyzes the options available to the Algerian diplomat and proposes ways to avoid the pitfalls that have prevented progress so far.

al-monitor Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi (C), former advisor of the United Nations, is awarded the Freedom of Expression by William van den Heuvel (L) from the Roosevelt Institute during the Four Freedom Award ceremony in Middelburg May 24, 2008. Photo by REUTERS/Robin van Lonkhuijsen.

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russian diplomacy in syrian crisis, russian, lakhdar brahimi, kofi annan, chinese foreign policy, arab league observer mission, arab

Aug 29, 2012

Will Lakhdar Brahimi manage to succeed where his predecessor Kofi Annan failed, or more specifically was led to fail? Annan could not implement his six-point plan, remaining stuck at the first point relating to the cease-fire.

There is no doubt that Brahimi's experience in dealing with complex and overlapping internal and external conflicts is essential for the job. Add to this that he has extensive and accurate knowledge about Middle Eastern policies and a wide network of connections. However, such elements do not guarantee the success of his mission, knowing that his predecessor also had quite a number of advantages.

Brahimi is more aware of this fact than anyone else, which explains the cautious tone he adopted as he spoke of the likelihood of his success. He said such success will depend on certain conditions. Chief among these is an active international consensus — particularly among major countries in the UN Security Council — about their vision for resolving the Syrian crisis.

The position they adopt should go beyond generalities and principles that are open to different interpretations, as was the case with the statement of the Working Group in Geneva. This position should be based on the crystallization of and a commitment to the solution’s framework and mechanisms. These two components would form a conceptual reference and allow the joint special representative of the two secretaries-general of the United Nations and the Arab League to elaborate on the solution's action plan.

Such an international consensus would send a clear and firm message to all those involved in the Syrian crisis that they are not allowed to change the rules of the game set by the Security Council. Lakhdar Brahimi is not a special representative to the Security Council, and settling the dispute plaguing the council’s alliances and its allies is not his duty. Rather, his role is to represent these varied alliances and their allies in developing a solution for the Syrian crisis.

The strength and credibility that Brahimi should seek out when beginning this difficult diplomatic mission can only stem from a consensus that is active, clear, continuous and serves as a deterrent to additional conflict. These remain necessary conditions for the success of diplomatic missions in solving multifaceted conflicts in which domestic political and social affairs get mixed up with international strategic issues.

In this regard, the interesting paradox is that Brahimi's mission begins as the struggle over Syria intensifies amid a growing polarization between Western and Arab powers on the one hand, and the Russian-Chinese axis and Iran on the other.

The question that must be raised is how to re-open the door to the Security Council, locked by the dual Russian-Chinese veto, through a formula of understanding that would constitute a solid ground for the Brahimi mission.

I think that it is essential that the council's consultations and research be focused on defining a framework and the elements for a transitional phase. These consultations should be focused on the course of Syria’s transformation and its negotiations process. They should precisely define the role of the "third party," the joint special representative.

This would then enable Brahimi to oversee these negotiations while working to set a calendar for the transitional period, engineer its elements and establish a link between all of them. He must do all of this while at the same time guaranteeing that nothing disrupts the process for any reason. Thus, Brahimi could serve as a facilitator, guaranteeing the implementation of what is agreed upon to make progress on the ground and offering support for turning each decision into reality.

In the midst of the increased militarization of the conflict, some might say that what has been oulined is very Utopian and outdated. Yet in any case, it remains a more realistic approach to resolving this conflict than any other talk related to the mission of the joint special representative, particularly given the absence of a unified message on the part of all involved countries regarding the vision of the Security Council. In addition, it remains more realistic than having the special representative work in parallel and in an almost uninterrupted way, if not as a replacement to the Security Council. Finally, it surely is a more moral approach, as it assumes international responsibility, than watching and releasing statements awaiting the total breakdown of the Syrian state and society, considering the human tragedies and strategic risks that this would inflict upon Syria and its neighbors.

Ambassador Nassif Hitti is Head of the Arab League Mission in Paris and Permanent Observer at UNESCO. Prior to taking up his post, he was Professor of International Relations at American University in Cairo. Ambassador Hitti has a long and distinguished history of academic and diplomatic postings in Europe, North America and the Arab world. He is a member of the Al-Monitor board.

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