It’s been a few weeks now since my series of blogs evaluating the threat of military action against Syria. The intense diplomacy of recent weeks has thankfully dissipated that threat and rekindled hope that a peace conference in Geneva might yet be possible. This blog tries to make sense of recent diplomatic developments.
The Syrian conflict is like a stretched accordion. The political and military divisions within Syria are matched by divisions in the region and internationally. The international community has a responsibility to overcome its own divisions and in so doing help squeeze the air out of the conflict.
This can only be done through a strategy of de-escalation and a diplomatic drive to secure a negotiated political transition in Syria. There is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. The further militarisation of the conflict will merely intensify the nightmare experienced by civilians and entrench positions on the ground.
If the Lavrov-Kerry agreement of 14 September is to act as a catalyst for a wider diplomatic settlement then it is important that the international community learns the lessons of Geneva I.
Last July, the world powers meeting in Geneva agreed a peace plan for Syria that included amongst other things a process for a negotiated transition in Syria. Even before the ink was dry on the Communique the divisions appeared as to what an implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) might look like. Those divisions resulted in a diplomatic stalemate. Since then the conflict has gone on to claim a further 85,000 lives and a humanitarian crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen before.
Sadly, diplomatic divisions now appear to have emerged as how best to implement the Lavrov-Kerry agreement. Should it be framed as Chapter 7 resolution? Should it also include provision to refer those responsible for the chemical attack in Syria to the International Criminal Court?
All of this feels depressingly familiar.
It seems strangely bizarre that France, the UK and the US are pressing for a Chapter 7 UNSCR that would authorise the use of force should Syria not abide by the terms of the resolution. With Russian signalling its intent to veto any such Resolution, this strategy is doomed to failure and represents a serious stumbling block in building on the recent diplomatic break-through.
Given the fragility of diplomatic relations at present, it makes more diplomatic sense to secure a UNSCR on disarmament and then, if Syria fails to live up to its responsibilities, allow the United Nations Security Council to look again at the issue. Yes, those responsible for the chemical attack(s) in Syria need to be held accountable, but sometimes the search for justice can obstruct the efforts to make peace.
The humanitarian costs of diplomatic failures to date are evidence enough that it is high time the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council put aside their nostalgia for Cold War style politics and focused their attention on taking those steps that are necessary to bring this conflict to an end.
Before the 14 September agreement the prospects for Geneva II looked more than a distant hope, but it’s possible to imagine Geneva II being the beneficiary of this agreement. It would be shameful, even criminal, if this diplomatic opportunity was now lost.
Last month the threat of military intervention was averted in no small part due to the heightened public debate and scrutiny across Europe and North America. Similar public debate and political engagement is now needed to help governments overcome the diplomatic obstacles that are threatening a peaceful resolution of this bloody conflict.
Having being such outspoken critics of military intervention in Syria, it is now time that the Churches raised their voices as advocates for peace.