Since spring 2011, the regime of Bashar al Assad has caused regional instability and presented the international community with steadily rising numbers of deaths and brutality from the conflict. While the United Nations estimated the Syrian death toll at 70,000 in April 2013, this figure had risen to 93,000 in June and has cost the lives of more than 110,000 people by today.
Meanwhile, the international society remains paralyzed because of a deadlock in the UN Security Council, the only international authority which could justify a military action against the Assad regime. And while the UN General-Secretary, Ban Ki Moon, urges for a political solution as the only way to end the bloodshed in Syria, another preliminary climax has recently been reached by the use of chemical weapons. According to the US Secretary of State John Kerry, the use of chemical weapons can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and traced to the Syrian Government. The question now stands whether a solution for Syria, after all that has happened, can still be found at a potential Geneva Peace Conference. Or does the growing severity of the dispute make a non-pacific intervention a necessity before satisfying results can be achieved?
(Graph based on data from the Syrian National Council)
The theory of third party intervention tells us that the dispute severity has a strong effect on an intervener’s choice of techniques. There is a dynamic process of interaction between the belligerent and the intervener. As a result, the intervention technique to be chosen correlates to the conflict process itself. For the current Syria conflict this would mean that while in the early months of the conflict it seemed justified for the international community to concentrate on pacific intervention strategies including those leading to weapon embargos, the severity of the conflict in terms of numbers of deaths and weaponry applied makes it likely that the intervener’s choice of intervention must adapt accordingly.
"For many Arabs, a military intervention would be the way to punish Al Assad"
In respect to the Syrian conflict this could mean that the suggested Geneva Peace Conference on Syria would come too late as violence has already escalated. This is especially true when considering that the use of chemical weapons means a breach of the internationally recognised Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), in which only 7 UN Member States are not a party (including Syria). Now, the international society is struggling to find a unified voice and an adequate solution in order to avoid setting a precedent and maintaining existing rules on the use of chemical weapons.
The individual answers to the conflict are greatly shaped by the geopolitical position and national interests of the parties to the CWC and members of the international society. As the current 2013 G20 Summit in St. Petersburg unfolds, there seems little support for the US military strike. While the Chinese Minister of Finance fears a spike in oil prices, the President of the European Council simply ruled out the possibility of a military solution to the conflict.
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But the dynamics of the conflict indicate the unlikelihood of successful green table negotiations and effective pacific third party mediation efforts backed by Russia and China leading to a radical de-escalation of the conflict. US President Barack Obama keeps stressing that a red line has been crossed with the use of chemical weapons. Thus, the US is preparing for a unilateral airstrike and stressing that Syria will not turn into another Iraq or Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, in the closer peripherals to the Syrian conflict, the Arab League would soon welcome a military action backed by the United Nations urging the United Nations Security Council to overcome its internal differences. Within the Arab community, the foremost supporter of a military intervention in Syria is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. At the current time, Saudi Arabia is among the few Arab countries that would not only back a multilateral intervention but even a unilateral US military intervention in Syria. While the Arab League can not agree on a written endorsement, Saudi Arabia is not alone in its inclination to support a non-pacific intervention.
More and more discord is coming up between the 350 million Arabs of the 22 member states of the Arab League, including the six GCC countries. The disgraceful humanitarian calamity in Syria, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres put it, has caused horror in the region and disbelief that the international community stands by while Syrian people are kept being murdered. In the United Arab Emirates, a recent commentary by Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, Professor of political science at Emirates University, gave a voice to the resentment about what is happening currently to the mainly Sunni-Muslim majority of the Syrian people. Professor Abdulkaleq stressed that Bashar Al Asaad has tested everyone’s patience for too long. Analysing Assad’s behavior, he judged him as a man who does not believe in red lines and having the ultimate goal of staying in power – whatever the cost might be. As he has shown, this includes the use of chemical weapons or possibly even nuclear weapons if he possessed them.
This short analysis has shown that the international society is divided along political, economic and ethic lines. The numbers in the graph have shown that the conflict has increased in intensity each month. Also, that the growing dispute severity has an effect on the techniques and options available to third-parties for intervention. This could lead one to conclude that the increasing intensity of the conflict cannot be eased at the negotiation table in Geneva and that a non-pacific intervention is a necessity before satisfying results can be achieved. For many Arabs, including Dr Abdulkhaleq, a military intervention would be the way to punish Al Assad.
Accordingly, if this was the only way to alleviate the war ridden country from its current pain, “so be it”. Should the international society remain divided and the responsible institutions paralyzed, the US might well intervene in the conflict. If this is the case, the US could be expected to concentrate on the desired results of such an intervention while exercising care not to get caught up in the interests of either of the Syrian conflicting parties.
Hence, in best of cases, the intervention would go far enough to protect internationally recognized standards (even though Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention) and protect Syrian human rights but needs to avoid civilian casualties. Eventually, such measurement could only be tolerated if it paved the way for multilateral peace-talks and pacific third-party interventions which will help to stabilize Syria and the entire region in the future.
The analysis above is the exclusive opinion of the author and does not represent the opinion of the sponsors of the UAE Diplomacy project or any other authors involved in UAE Diplomacy activities.