Syrian Crisis: Back to Square One for International Diplomacy

Article Summary
The prospects for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis appear grim, as a recent UN vote has revealed polarization within the international community. Numerous states, including Turkey, are now taking independent lines aimed at solving the crisis - but military options are still off the table, writes Sami Kohen.

We are all watching the human drama unfolding in Homs, a city quickly turning to rubble under the tank and artillery fire of its own national army.

Who is going to be able to halt the Assad regime’s brutal war on the opposition - which it has labeled “a few terrorists”? Not the United Nations. This was made clear after the Russian and Chinese vetoes wiped out the already meager hopes of a UN solution.

Now, some want to give a new chance to diplomacy starting from square one.

Will this take the form of a new Arab League mission? How different it will be from the first one? And will the Assad regime accept it?

For its part, Russia is working to promote a process of negotiations between Assad and the opposition. What opposition will sit down with Assad given the current situation?

Western countries - and France in particular - want to set up a “solidarity for Syria” group. Is such a move likely to phase Assad, he who has China and Russia behind him?

Turkey wants to convene an international conference in Istanbul. What is important here is not who is going to attend, but rather who will not. Can a conference held outside of UN offices diminish the latter’s [effectiveness]? Is the goal of the conference to find a solution without Assad, or is it to compel Assad to negotiate with the opposition while keeping his post?

Today, the international community is completely lacking in effective tools to solve the Syrian crisis. The tools available to either make Assad heed international calls, or depose him, are limited. The options are either to collectively utilize all diplomatic means [in a unified manner], or opt for military measures.

The recent vote at the UN Security Council [on February 1, 2011] has highlighted the infeasibility of international action in the diplomatic arena. The probability of success for future diplomatic initiatives is decidedly low. The key actors involved are polarized:  Russia, China and Iran back Assad while the West calls for his departure.

A military solution seems even more distant. Contrary to the situation in Libya [in 2011], there is no UN consensus to launch even a small-scale military operation, and no one willing to undertake such a mission anyway. The opposition’s desperate calls for help are lost in the wilderness.

We can console ourselves by saying: “This can’t go on forever,” but that’s about it. Meanwhile the Syrian people continue to suffer.

Found in: unsc, security, military, homs

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