The United Nations have involved themselves in intervention or peace-keeping in the Balkans, the Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, the Lebanon and in the Israel/Palestine conflict. And, of course, Libya. Yet they are disinclined to intervene in Syria. Is this hypocrisy of the first order? Alex Patnick asks.
As many of you will have read or seen on TV, in recent days, the Assad regime in Syria has been besieging and occupying the town Hama as well as attacking Deraa and committing atrocities in other parts of the country. The UN has been debating the situation since Assad started, and has come under attack from most major political powers. When the Libyan revolution/rebellion broke out the UN acted within days yet, in Syria, they are still failing to act. This could be seen as a form of hypocrisy. The mandate of the operations in Libya is to use ‘all necessary measures to protect civilians’ (see here for full text). While this is open to interpretation and debate, they still took action.
In addition, going back throughout the last 20 years or so we can see other examples of UN intervention/peacekeeping, most recently in the Ivory Coast to resolve the Presidential dispute. Other high profile actions include Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq, between 1991 and 2003, several times in the Israel/Palestinian conflict notably in 1982 and the current peacekeeping force in Lebanon, the Balkan crisis of the mid-1990s, Darfur last year, and many, many others so why will they not act in Syria?
While no news agency can verify reports coming from those fighting the Assad regime, there are simply too many reports and videos coming out of the country to ignore. The UN’s own Human Rights Commission voted on 29 April for an investigation into human rights violations. The UN Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights, Khyung-wha Kang said “…Syria must ensure that the rights to life, liberty and security of person are protected in all circumstances, including in the context of efforts to maintain law and order” which clearly they are not.
It appears that there is no appetite for military intervention with William Hague stating in a on Radio 4 on Monday that military intervention was “not a remote possibility, even if we were in favour, which we are not” and the French foreign ministry stating that “no option of a military nature is considered” While both Britain’s and France’s armed forces are leading on Libya and may not be able to participate in any Syrian action, they are both permanent members of the UN Security Council and one can assume that America feels this way as well as Russia and China who both tend to be against military action. Despite the lack of willingness of military intervention; sanctions have been imposed and Robert Gates, the US ambassador to the UN, has called for a plan to be in place for the post-Assad regime. I do not believe that Assad will be overthrown without military intervention from the Western world but, just like Libya, this could be tough.
There are many differences between Syria and Libya that may explain why the West will not intervene militarily in Syria. A lot of it has to do with the men at the top. When Colonel Gaddafi was first challenged, within a few weeks several senior political and military figures had defected. With Bashar al-Assad however, many leading figures are tied to him through blood or marriage and won’t defect as they will lose their statuses and may even be arrested in the post-Assad regime yet most of the Libyan defectors had no familial ties and won’t face arrest when Gaddafi is gone. In addition to this Gaddafi has been a pariah with the west for many years and was coming back into the fold when, back in 2009, al-Megrahi was released and he became a pariah again. The Assad regime never quite got that far and despite sanctions, was still on relatively good terms and even had a chance at joining the Human Rights Commission until the uprising started.
Another major factor is that the Arab League has not called for any intervention in Syria as they did for Libya. The Arab League chief, Nabil Ellarby told reporters in July that Assad had given assurances of reform and his deputy Ahmed bin Heli said that the Arab League saw Syria as a “main factor of stability” in the region. While the country may have been stable, it isn’t now, and the promised reforms are yet to materialise. Like Gaddafi in Tripoli, the Assads will probably stay in power until the uprising hits Damascus and they get dragged from their offices.
Lastly, the oil supply coming from Syria does not appear to be interrupted unlike Libya’s was and Reuters have reported that foreign oil companies are keeping production running as long as security remains stable (see http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/03/us-syria-oil-idUSTRE77228C20110803). As long as the oil supply remains the world will be reluctant to send in any military especially with crude oil selling for $110 per barrel in an ever uncertain economic climate and America only just avoiding a default.
Despite all of the above, the UN is continuing its long trend of hypocrisy. On the one hand, it takes action over human rights violations in Libya and heavily criticises Israel and follows this up with various different actions. Yet it refuses to take action against Syria despite blatant abuses of the population. When will the UN end this hypocrisy and start treating every country equally? While I do not know the answer to this I can only urge the UN to start by talking about possible military intervention. As always military intervention should be a last resort but it seems that all other efforts have failed and the time for diplomacy is over. The UN needs to show some backbone and do something to save the people of Syria before it’s too late. If they don’t, and the uprising is defeated, just like his father in 1982, Bashar al-Assad will have further strengthened his position. Act now or face the consequences.