Richmond World Affairs Council

Syria, Part 3: The International Reaction

The Arab Spring has caused a diverse response among a variety of nations and international bodies, inspiring sanctions or military reaction against dictators for some nations and steadfast support for the current leaders in others. While largely dependent upon the conflicted nation, some sort of reaction has always been provoked. Syria is no exception to this rule, and while the reaction has not been as pronounced as that for Libya, the international community has not remained silent. Which nations continue to support the Assad regime, and why? Why have the UN and NATO not taken as decisive of an action as they did with Libya? What is the United Statesposition on the rebellion?

The UN has fallen dreadfully short of protecting the laws set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Though the Assad regime continually violates the rights of the Syrian people, the Security Council has failed to pass a resolution to take action against the government. In October of 2011, the Council drafted a resolution which mildly condemned the government of Syria for its repression of non-violent protests, but even this meek measure failed to pass through the veto system. Both Russia and China used their vetoes to block the resolution on the grounds that it provoked conflict because it could justify military action against Syria(Al Jazeera). This could likely be a result of NATO’s involvement in Libya, and Russiaand China’s desire to prevent another multinational intervention. However, the fact remains that Russia and Syria have been close allies since the Cold War, and Russiacould easily be using its veto power to protect its ally’s interests rather than international peace and human rights. The official vote of the 15-nation Security Council left only Russiaand Chinaagainst the resolution, with 9 in favor and 4 abstentions (Washington Post). The failure of a resolution with a clear majority in support of it forces the observer to question the efficiency of the all-powerful UN body.

Though the Arab League has not taken the direct action warranted by such a brutal crackdown, it has been more active than the UN in punishing Syriafor its abuses. In November 2011, the 22 nations voted to suspend Syria’s membership in the league and impose sanction. Only two nations besides Syria voted against this resolution, which shows the isolation that Syriais experiencing, even among Arab States (Washington Post). In the brief window allowed to activate the peace plan, Syria agreed to the regulations with a statement about its belief that the Arab League was bowing to American and Western interests (Washington Post). As part of the resolution, observers came into the country to assess the situation. However, one of the observers walked out on the mission, claiming that the regime had fabricated what they saw so the Arab League would not take action against the regime (Al Jazeera). Though the imposed sanctions are a good step made by the Arab League, the concern has been voiced that they will be hard to enforce. Investment in and dealings with Syrian banks were stopped, a travel ban on senior officials and the suspension of commercial flights to and from Syria were enacted as well as the end to investment in Syria by Arab governments.  Syria’s neighbors in particular have recognized the difficulty of the enforcement of these restrictions (BBC News).

Individually, nations imposed sanctions and condemnations of the crackdown since international bodies had failed to do so collectively. The United Statescalled upon Assad to step down in August and imposed mild sanctions such as the executive order to freeze all assets to Syria and ban oil importation. However, this ban is not very effective without the support of many nations with the same goal. In early September of last year, the EU backed the US in their ban of Syrian oil and banned crude oil shipments.

More recently, the UN-Arab League envoy and ex-Secretary General Kofi Annan drew up a six-point peace plan for Syria (Al Jazeera). The plan drawn up by Mr. Annan called for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies for relief, the release of prisoners, political dialogue about reform, and access to the country for international media. This plan implies leadership of the reform movement by the Syrian people through the use of a transitional government with executive powers (UN News Center). Though the Assad regime accepted this plan, very little progress has been made. Though a resolution sent 300 observers to oversee the ceasefire, no results have been seen. The head of the UN peacekeepers says that Syria is in the midst of a civil war, which was reinforced by Assad’s assortment of this in late June of 2012 (Telegraph).

Though the nation has been officially declared in a state of civil war and numerous human rights violations have been proven, both individual nations and international bodies have failed to take action against the tyrannical regime.  Without the aid of the international community, the people of Syriawill continue to struggle to throw off the bonds of oppression and abuse.Though it is possible for the Assad regime to crumble without more international action, it is unlikely and more inclined to be a drawn-out and destructive process. While the international community must balance the importance of the Syrians’ right to self-determination along with their right to revolt against an unstable government, inaction is certainly not the correct path to follow.

~ Rachel Smith