The Syrian crisis is now in its third year and so far the Unites Nations, much like the mad emperor Nero, is continuing to play the fiddle while the state burns and is literally reduced to ashes. In 2012, president Assad claimed that the overthrown of Arab regimes had “not worked in the interest of freedom, democracy or ending social injustice as much as it helped create chaos” and this is regrettably proving to be true. The Syrian crisis has already been singled out as the most devastating humanitarian crisis since the end of the Cold War although the really shocking dimension is the almost complete absence of any adequate response from the international community.

Image courtesy of Henry Ridgwell, © 2012, some rights reserved.
Image courtesy of Henry Ridgwell, © 2012, some rights reserved.

Unfortunately, Syria, like most conflicts of the 21st century, encompasses many different players within the state itself as well as on the international stage of politics. What first promised to be another domino in the Arab revolution quickly spiralled out of control and now this failing state is viewed as being in the midst of a sectarian war resulting from a clash of religion with politics and class with ethnicity. In overly simplistic terms, within Syria, the predominantly Alawite government lead by Assad and its Shiite allies have unified their efforts to fight against the Sunnis who have rebelled and make up the majority of the population. The remaining minorities such as Christians are left to fear for their lives as they are caught up in the fighting. The complexity of the situation is further complicated by international conflicts of interests that mean any hopes for an internationally lead humanitarian or military intervention are dead in the water.

Bitter battles similarly plague the international community, although, in this case, all of the fighting takes place in a suit and tie as diplomatic compromises are ignored and a coherent strategy cannot be agreed upon. The greatest international institution, the United Nations, came grinding to a halt as both Russia and China have used their position on the Security Council to veto resolutions. The European Union is also divided, so where France and Britain would like to see the arms embargo expire in May 2013 in order to give weapons to the rebels, Germany and the Netherlands have demonstrated incredible reluctance. Even the powerful US offered a shower of support of almost $117 million to the Syrian rebels, however, the military aid is strictly non-lethal and the food and medical supplies cannot meet demand.

In April of this year, A “Friends of Syria” meeting was held in Istanbul during which John Kerry clarified that “the stakes in Syria couldn’t be more clear”. He went on to lament “chemical weapons, the slaughter of people by ballistic missiles and other weapons of huge destruction; the potential of a whole country, a beautiful country, with great people, being torn apart”. However, these words seem hollow when the US seems more concerned with domestic politics and refuses to employ its army.

So the West does not want to provide military support, but this does not mean that neighbouring states in the region, whose borders are being crossed by thousands of refugees, have taken a similar stance. In a misguided effort to help one side or the other end the conflict quickly, neighbouring states have been complicit in the arming of the factions, paradoxically increasing the likelihood of the conflict spiralling out of control. The geopolitical implications of the conflict may further destabilise the entire Middle East as tensions mount and tempers are lost.

The paradox of this collective inaction is that all of the international players are in agreement that the situation in Syria requires deft action and human rights violations are occurring, yet no international organisation has been able to pass a resolution and no state will dare to form a coalition or lead an intervention.

The diplomatic impasse forming around the issue of the Syrian crisis has reached a stalemate and so it is the Syrian population that suffers the consequences. They are forced either to flee to refugee camps or try to survive in cities that have now transformed into one large bloodbath. Over 70,000 people have been killed thus far according to UN reports, over half the population will need aid by the end of 2013 and half of this number are children.

The Syrian population is starving, sometimes without access to clean water or electricity and 4 million have been internally displaced. However, the situation is equally terrible even for those who managed to flee. By 2013, the UN estimated that over a million Syrians had become refugees, where 400,000 were in camps in Lebanon alone. The Red Cross and other charities have stated that the refugee camps cannot support the multitude of people who keep arriving in waves in increasing numbers each month.

“The system is at breaking point. There is limited capacity to take many more. Where are the people going to flee? Into the sea?” claims Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Syria has proven to be a pawn in a game of power politics where human rights violations and the use of chemical weapons continue unpunished. While the Assad regime could be held solely accountable, the real villains in this tragic tale are the states who place ego and domestic pandering before morality and the ineffectual international organisations that cannot meet the challenges of a multipolar system that has characterised the international system following the end of the Cold War. In any case, the only player that will ultimately emerge as the loser in the end will be the Syrian population, as the state increasing ceases to exist.

Leave a Reply