The perpetuating Syrian conflict has become a diplomatic crisis due to its recent intensification resulting in the deaths of 100 dissidents in the town of Houla and once again isolating opposing members of the United Nations Security Council on methods of response.
The international response to the Syrian civil war has been a blitzkrieg of failed resolutions, condemning statements, economic sanctions, and failed observer missions, all of which have been knee-jerk reactions to the inability of the international community to authorize a join resolution of all UNSC member nations to respond with military force. Despite the evident slaughter of men, women and children in Houla, both Russia and China reiterated their opposition to military intervention in Syria. Their resolve is also paralleled by the remaining presence of Syrian diplomats in their countries, a juxtaposition to the position of 9 other Western nations that have expelled Syrian diplomats from their embassies. Along with Japan, the US, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have all retroactively announce the expulsion of Syrian diplomats in protest of the massacre in Houla. Nevertheless, the show of force in the Western hemisphere amounts to nothing because of the rigid positions of China and Russia. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov stated that Moscow will veto any Council resolution that authorizes foreign military interference in Syria. Similarly, in Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China opposes regime change by force in Syria. The massacre, another death toll to be added to the genocide, is another reflection of the failure of the Annan ceasefire deal. Annan’s plan had called on the Syrian government to withdraw heavy weapons from civilian areas and abide by a truce with rebels. President Assad had promised to abide by the regulations if the rebels were to cease their weapon smuggling and lay down their arms, a clause that clearly represented a security dilemma as the rebels would then be helpless. Although many attacks have been carried out since the plan was laid out a month ago, the Houla massacre represents the peak of slaughter in the deteriorating county of Syria. According to Herve Ladsous, pro-Assad gunmen known as the shabiha executed civilians and others were killed by artillery and tank fire, all of which was clearly the responsibility of the Syrian government. So saying, the polarized positions of Russia and China have kept the full power and authority of the UN at bay, whilst allowing executions and genocide of thousands to continue under Assad.
“We took this action to expel Syrian diplomats in response to the massacre in the village of Houla – absolutely indefensible, vile, despicable massacre against innocent children, women, show at point-blank range by regime thuds, the shabiha, aided and abetted by the Iranians, who were actually bragging about it over the weekend.” – Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman.
In response to the climatic events, the European Union is likely to press the Human Rights Council to recommend the UNSC refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court. Nevertheless, because China and Russia have the power to veto any UN sanctions against Syria, the widespread outrage is unlikely to translate into tough action on the Syrian government. The dilemma emerging is that members of the international community want different things and do not share the same principles, though mass slaughter being wrong would be one to share. Russia, China and many 3rd world nations are not victim to the same outrage and gun-ho attitudes of many Western nations. The repression of a totalitarian regime is not so hard a concept for many to grasp, most especially considering that many nations were victim to repression from Western imperialism. Despite the demise of the old Soviet empire, the of Putin still represents the hardness of the past. Though it may be referred to as ugly and not nice, the regimes of the East stand because of their heavy-handedness, as being implemented by Assad to a much greater extent. Moreover, the repression enforced in Russia during the first round of elections, considered to be rigged, represents elements of the Stalin-esque era. Combined with the installment of loyal office-holders in the regime by Putin, the rigidity of the country to liberalization is evident. So saying, Syria also represents to Russia its last stronghold in the Middle East and is also part of a lucrative bilateral trade agreement, thus making Russia very reluctant to lose such an ally. In the US, the position of Russia and the massacre in Syria has entered the presidential race, with Republic candidate Romney calling Russia’s position heartless and ugly. Romney has further called for a firmer and more assertive position by the US. Nevertheless, as with all presidential statement, it is easy to blame and insult but hard to actually come up with an effective strategy or replacement. The tools with which to approach Russia are not as clear and concise as the GOP candidate presumes. Many have called for the isolation of Russia through moral and verbal attacks, something that will have as much of an effect as the Anna peace plan in Syria.
“We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives. This massacre is the most unambiguous indictment to date of the Syrian government’s flagrant violations of its United Nations Security Council obligations.” – Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman
The ties between Russia and China are not easily isolated and cut, and thus attacking Russia with morality questions will undoubtedly lead to more rigidity and opposition by the Russian regime to any Western resolution towards Syria. Moreover, the cohesive West is not as cemented in its mission towards Syria either. Israel, a strong US ally in the Middle east, does not want to have strong Syria nearby and welcomes the thought domestic divide and a weakened enemy. Israel is surrounded by enemies and the likely repeal of its nonaggression treaty with Egypt, due to its rising Islamist party, will represent another enemy and tense relation for Israel. Israel is also presented with the encroaching threat of a nuclear Iran, another powder keg tied to the Syrian conflict. Iran is a strong ally to Assad and is responsible for providing much of Syria’s arms trade and troops, such as the trained shabiha thugs. If the West were to intervene in Syria, not only would this divide the hemisphere of the West and East into extreme poles, but Iran will most likely drop nuclear talks that are set to resume and thus continue its uranium enrichment, possibly resulting in a volatile nuclear power in heart of the Middle East. So saying, the cultural and religious divides of the Middle East present an unconquerable task of overcoming or appeasing. Israel’s existence is already reason enough for many nations to start war, but if Turkey were to involve itself militarily on the behalf of the West, the divides between the Kurdish, Shi’ite and Sunni populations would ignite into a much larger international crisis.
“I made it clear that it is not an open-ended process and that time is coming, sooner rather than later, when the international community will need to make an assessment as to how things are going and what further actions or activities may be necessary.” – Kofi Annan, UN special envoy
In retrospect, the situation for the international community is a looming diplomatic and humanitarian crisis which is only perpetuated by their indecisiveness and polarized members. The Western nations are attempting to involve themselves in the internal dynamics of domestic politics of a country miles away and in the throes of a civil war, a task nigh impossible without considering the opposition they face from their own member nations.