As official records show more than one million Syrians have fled their own country, and more than 70,000 have been slaughtered by their President's troops, the world's Responsibility to Protect (R2P) seems to be gathering dust.

Almost two years to the day the Syrian uprising began, another ignominious milestone is reached. One million Syrians are officially classified as refugees having fled their own country.

This probably falls well short of the real figure, and in no way accounts for those who are displaced persons, stuck and fighting for survival within what is left of Syria.

Two years of bloodshed. War crimes being committed on both sides of that bloodshed. And, talk. Endless talk. Endless hand-wringing. Endless summits. Dismay that Russia will veto any UN Security Council action for its own national interests. 

The stark reality that the proxy wars at play in this strategic zone mean Syria now teeters on the brink of being the new Somalia.

The body count has tipped over the 70,000 mark; the utterly desperate flee to neighbouring countries which are increasingly overwhelmed. Jordan and Egypt are cash-strapped; Turkey keeps its borders open to fleeing Syrians, Iraq - how bad is life when escape to present-day Iraq is the better option - is taking in refugees. Lebanon is being dragged into the crisis. 

There has been no shortage of international summits and talk fests and donor conferences which aim to come up with a Syrian solution. Yet, of the billion dollars pledged at the February donor conference in Kuwait, only one percent has materialized. 

Talk, talk talk.

Whatever happened to the much heralded global Responsibility to Protect. Cutely referred to as R2P it was a new humanitarian intervention somewhat ironically born of a blend of  Morgenthau realism and Walzerian liberal internationalism intersecting at the point where military intervention can be justified - albeit when all else fails. 

R2P is the mechanism which throughly, and lawfully, overturns the notion that what a country does within its own borders is no one else’s business. R2P means sovereignty no longer equals a license to kill.

R2P was the world’s way of assuaging its collective guilt for failing to act to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, and the following ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

These were failures which made a mockery of the post-Holocaust cry of “never again”.

Six months ago when the war crimes - let’s be frank and call them what they are - in Syria were more than well under way, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told the UNGA that he was “haunted” by the world’s failure to live up to that never again pledge.

Not haunted enough it seems, and certainly not as haunted as Syrians who have time and time again cried out for help.

Not as haunted as those fighting the Assad regime who, while grateful the US has finally agreed to have a (timid) dog in this fight and cough up some cash, don’t want bandages and food, they want weapons or the implementation of a Libya-style no-fly zone so the troops of their ‘President‘ can no longer murder them from the air.

Why can the US send drones to assist the French troops in Mali, but not send in drones to help the Syrians who are being slaughtered because of Assad’s superior air power?

Yes the arguments about not wanting weaponry to fall into the wrong hands are understandable, but weapons are obviously getting in.

Yes the US is (hopefully now) aware of its own doctrine of “you break it, you own it” which has come to bite it on its nether regions on too many occasions, but realistically,  how much more broken could Syria become?

If the current situation continues, Syria will follow other protracted conflagrations which make extremists of those who are in battle. Africa and the Middle East are littered with examples. 

Without hope of outside assistance, Syria too is in danger of any secular narrative concerning its future surrendering to extremism.

Wednesday’s capture of 21 UN peacekeepers from the Golan Heights by a group of Syrian opposition fighters is testament to the longer the crisis continues, the bigger the risk of an increase in the number of rebel factions, and the more desperate their tactics. 

Australia’s former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans is a leading proponent of R2P. 

He’s delivered many a speech outlining that R2P is about a state’s responsibility to act to protect its own and other people suffering from mass atrocity crimes. 

R2P proponents hold dear to the belief that the new reality is not that countries like the United States - the world’s de facto policeman - have the right to intervene, but rather have the responsibility to protect fellow human beings, no matter where in the world they have the misfortune to be born.

It is about walking the walk of the international community. If persuasion in all its possible forms fails, then the international community moves in - through humanitarian measures, preventative and non-military coercion (sanctions, threats of international criminal prosecution, arms embargo)...and then coercive military force.

R2P was damaged by the Libyan experience when is morphed in to a regime change mission, and that has provided Russia with all the excuses it needs to block intervention in Syria.

Surely it is way past time to grapple with the raw politics of the Syrian slaughter. Soon, all that will be left is a truly dangerous, failed state. 

Syria’s neighbours - especially Israel - will be in for big trouble if Syria is reduced to a site for sectarian war by extremists. It will be ripe turf for proxy war by jihadists, and if Israel is worried about Iran now, just wait till its proxies move in right next door with no curb on their activities.

There is no solution on the table because no-one has a solution and realistically there is no perfect solution. 

If we waited for perfect solutions before exercising political will - domestic or international - nothing would ever get done. Politics is anything but perfect, and Syria is most definitely all about politics.

The first tangible step to aid Syria would be cease wasting time on manufactured crises like the ridiculous US sequestration, and the equally politically expedient sabre-rattling over when it will be time to stop starving Iranians and just bomb them. 

With respect to Libya US President Obama spoke eloquently of it being time to respond to the anguished appeal of a people at the mercy of their tyrant leader.

How much more anguished can Syrians be - those who are still alive that is.


Comments (11)

by Andrew P Nichols on March 08, 2013
Andrew P Nichols

"Whatever happened to the much heralded global Responsibility to Protect.?...."

"R2P was damaged by the Libyan experience when is morphed in to a regime change mission, and that has provided Russia with all the excuses it needs to block intervention in Syria".

You've answered your own question.

What your article fails to acknowledge that just like the Libyan regime change, the USA and GB ARE already actively supplying weapons using intermediaries ie those bastions of democracy Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (US/British weapons are the same wherever they come from) - and they aren't winning now because whether you like it or not,  Assad's government (let's ditch this puerile loaded "regime" term) actually has substantial support despite its less than democratic makeup. A significant proportion of the Syrian  population with good reason, recognise the drivers behind this civil war and its wahabi powerbase and it aint about bringing a democracy to their country.

It's time for talks as suggested by Assad and given qualified support by one of the non-jihadis in the opposition.Now isn't that in everyone's interests? Not the warmongering arab states and the US/GB (ie "the often quoted international community")

Amazing that it's the Russians that are looking the most sane in this matter.


Be careful what you wish for Ms Young!

by Rab McDowell on March 10, 2013
Rab McDowell

Responsibility to Protect is a bit like the Precautionary Principle. You could make a case for it almost anywhere but, in reality, people only justify it for the causes they support.
Of course you can make a case for R2P in Syria, but how about Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Venezuela, Burma, Fiji, or any other country that is treating its citizens in ways we think is not right.
The hand wringing will continue either because we think things should be done with are not being done (Syria) or because things are being done and we think they should not be done (Afghanistan, Iraq)

by Andrew P Nichols on March 10, 2013
Andrew P Nichols

Indeed Rab - Responsibility to Protect is a Tony Bliar coined term for invading/bombing/droning the latest country that the US/UK and western hangers (ie "the international community") on have declared to be enemies. Quicker and more certain results for the Empire than that other travesty the ICC in the Hague.

by Alan Johnstone on March 11, 2013
Alan Johnstone

I really struggle with this article and it's one eyed way of lookingat things.

Phrases like "more than 70,000 have been slaughtered by their President's troops" are farcial. 70,000 may well be dead, but it's a civil war. both sides have killed large numbers of troops. It's not a one way street.

Let's focus on the facts; armed rebels launched a revolution against the extant authories in Syria. Now I don't say that Bashir is a good person, far from it, but he didn't start this civil war. The rebels, who are largely militant islamists, did. It's replay of Libya.

This article and much of the media reporting paints a complex situation in very simple terms.

 

by Andrew Geddis on March 11, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Alan,

There's a certain irony in following your black-and-white claim that "[Bashir] didn't start this civil war. The rebels, who are largely militant islamists, did. It's replay of Libya" with a condemnation of Jane for "paint[ing] a complex situation in very simple terms."

Just why was it that " armed rebels launched a revolution against the extant authories in Syria" again? And feel free to reference the experience of Hama back in 1982 in your response.

by Alan Johnstone on March 11, 2013
Alan Johnstone

I'm well aware of what occurred at Hama in 1982; and as I stated in my first post, Pres Bashar Assad isn't someone I support. Although interestingly you appear to forget the hundreds off people murdered in terrorist attacks prior to the Hama attacks. Hama was the end of a process, not the start.

The Muslim brotherhood is a profoundly undemocractic and anti western organisation; It seeks to establish a theocracy. It's no better than the Ba'ath party. In fact at least the Ba'ath party is largerly secular in nature and allows religous freedom for minority groups like Christians. (I don't do god btw).

Jane started with emotive words about "70,000 being slaughtered by their presidents troops"; it implied one way guilt, when all hands are bloody here.

 

 

by Alan Johnstone on March 11, 2013
Alan Johnstone

To be very clear, I don't support collective punnishemnt and I'm not endorsing the Hama attack. however I equally don't accept planting of bombs in cities like the islamic brotherhood has.

 

by Andrew Geddis on March 11, 2013
Andrew Geddis

"Jane started with emotive words about "70,000 being slaughtered by their presidents troops"; it implied one way guilt, when all hands are bloody here."

Sure, no liberal worth their name can support the Muslim Brotherhood. But to paint this as a "Muslim Brotherhood" vs "Bashir Assad" conflict is as simplistic an account as you accuse Jane of giving.

And there may be blood on all hands, but only one set has heavy artillary and hellicopter gunships. Which matters a bit.

by Alan Johnstone on March 11, 2013
Alan Johnstone

"And there may be blood on all hands, but only one set has heavy artillary and hellicopter gunships. Which matters a bit."

Why? Are their victims any less dead?

by Andrew Geddis on March 11, 2013
Andrew Geddis

"Why? Are their victims any less dead?"

Nope. But there's a lot less of them. And there will continue to be a lot less, because artillary shells and helicopter gunships are much more efficient ways to kill people.

As you say, "Let's focus on the facts".

by Alan Johnstone on March 11, 2013
Alan Johnstone

So, what do you want to do? String out the civil war longer,  turning it into another Somalia or Spain?

Back to the facts. The Assad administration isn't going to walk away, and unlike in Libya, it has friends with very serious interests in its preservation. In practical terms this means Iran. I'm sure we're all aware the rebels are being supported by the Gulf arab states.

This could easily start to look very much like a proxy war between the Iranians and the Saudis. (who are already locked in a deadly strategic conflict for control of the gulf).

What do you want to do here? Arm the rebels and enforce a no fly zone? That means taking sides. Jane appears to be calling for military intervention on the side of the rebels to bring down Assad. I don't see a side worth supporting.

Also who would do it? Not the Americans, they backed off pretty quickly in Libya and left the heavy lefting to the French and British militaries. There is no political will for the US to get involved. 

Perhaps the least bad solution would be an Assad victory ? i don't know.

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