Syria: Intervention or Abstention?
by PHayes on May 12, 2015 - 9:33pm
Our world is not perfect and it has never been and it continues to be complex and sometimes impossible to deal with. There are still great conflicts that oppose two extremes and these often translate into bloody wars that many cannot witness without wanting to intervene in some way. Recently, the Syrian civil war and, to some extent, the Second Libyan civil war have both expanded and worsened and we must ask ourselves some fundamental questions in order to find proper solutions to these bloody series of events. Do Western nations have an obligation to act as the world’s police? What are the true boundaries for intervention in another country’s internal affairs? Clearly, nothing is getting better there because of a general discomfort on the part of world powers to act and because of complex international relations. One thing that is simple and clear is that we must act as soon as possible and that these fundamental questions could be answered fully or in part using concepts from political science, sociology and law. Within these, international relations, different foreign policies, the origins of the uprisings, the general characteristics of the population, the legal precedent for intervention and the consequences of such intervention can be discussed.
When it comes to the politics of the entire conflict in Syria, it seems to be very complicated, but can be summarized very easily. The current regime of Bashar Al-Assad is surviving because of constant support by Russia, Iran and, to a lesser degree, China and other organizations such as Hezbollah. President Bashar Al-Assad and his forces have, for some time, been able to count on Russia and Vladimir Putin for protection. An example of the alliance between the two nations and the commitment made by Russia to ensure the continuity of Ba’athist Syria is the Russian naval facility at Tartus that hosts the bulk of the country’s Mediterranean fleet. This can be related to the same Russian military presence in Europe and the Arctic, which I have mentioned in some of my news summaries. Even though Russia has not been directly involved in the civil war ‘‘[it] is the power which has most prominently provided a diplomatic shield for the Syrian state and bolstered it with arms supplies’’ (Allison 1). The close relationship between Putin and Assad can not only be explained by the simple fact that they are long-time allies and that Russia has military interests in the region. Indeed, there is also a more diplomatic reason. During the intervention in Libya, ‘‘Moscow accused coalition forces of numerous infringements of Resolution 1973, driven by efforts at regime change’’ and is most likely thinking that if an intervention in Syria is authorized, the West will ultimately concentrate its efforts, not on protecting the Syrian people, but on changing the regime in place (Allison 1). Another interesting regional relationship that can act as an impediment to progress, but also as an opportunity for change, is Iran’s unconditional support of the Assad regime. The country is said to have been ‘‘the most steadfast supporter of Assad and his predominantly Alawite state structure aligned to Shi’i Islam’’ (Allison 1). Though Iran is a theocracy and Syria is governed by a Secular dictatorship, both countries share common ground in regional interests and religious ideology. Both being of Shia dominated, they, in a way, need each other to counter the influence and might of Sunni powers in the Middle-East such as Saudi Arabia. However, the new, more moderate leadership in Iran, led by President Rohani, could offer some hope for change. Relations between his government and western powers have cooled and with some collaboration, intervention could be possible. Also, major western-allied players in the region like Turkey and Jordan could act on the part of NATO in intervening in the Syrian civil war. Turkey, obviously desires to have its own sphere of influence in its backyard, and it is said that ‘‘a more intense struggle for regional influence is developing as [Turkey and Iran] pursue starkly different policies toward the Arab Awakening and the uprising in Syria’’ and as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization it acts as a direct Western voice and can exert the power of countries like the United States on countries in turmoil such as Syria (Flanagan 165). These situations can show that there is a great need to tone down the influence of third party belligerents in the Syrian conflict and that the West must act accordingly and intervene in the most plausible fashion. However, it can also show that there is no need for direct Western influence in the Middle East as other countries aligned with EU and US policies can get involved in their own way.
The field of sociology offers an interesting glimpse into the causes and potential effects of the Syrian conflict and any intervention that may follow. The uprisings in Syria first started in a widely unknown city called Daraa when many people, having been inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, decided to go in the streets and demand change and more power for the people. The response by authorities was strict and, at that point, becoming increasingly violent. What is significant about this area in the country is that the survival of the initial protests was sustained by a unique system of social interactions, which led to further uprisings in other parts of Syria. The region has a unique system of clans that dominate political, cultural and economic life and its ‘‘structure and its significance in daily life and coping is remarkable [and] the clans provide a major source of solidarity, identity and socio-economic coping or survival’’ (Leenders 278). This viewpoint is fueled by a growing concept in sociology that is the social movement theory, which is a study that explores social mobilization and its different aspects. This theory suggests that the complexity of social interactions in pre-conflict Syria can help the opposition forces in gaining ground and minds as well as ensuring that the movement does not die away. It could also suggest that, even if the Syrian opposition can bear the brunt of the war with that kind of social support, good-intended world powers are needed to take advantage of this societal fabric to more easily start the process of intervention, be it indirect or direct military action. Another aspect of sociology is the concept of functionalism, which could be key to figuring out whether or not to intervene in the conflict. One of the most important things to take from this concept are that society is essentially formed of interdependent organisms that can make the entire system fail if they do not work together and that society must ultimately meet the needs of the majority (Ravelli 32). It is important to remember that whilst powerful countries are making up their policies, they must take into account the needs and interest of the majority of Syrians, which could be immediate intervention.
Finally, international law on the matter, which is mostly covered by the Responsibility to Protect, also has some things to offer into the debate of whether or not to intervene and the boundaries of it all. The basic principles of R2P, as it is commonly called, are as follows: ‘‘(1) a state has the primary responsibility to protect the individuals within it; (2) if the state is unable or unwilling to do so, the international community has a secondary responsibility to protect, acting primarily through the U.N.; and (3) the norm’s foundational purpose — to bring to life the notion that regardless of states’ singular interest or lack of interest in intervention, individuals should never be allowed to suffer at the hands of their governments’’ (‘‘Recent Draft Resolution’’ 1059). The consensus is very clear. The Syrian government has not fulfilled its responsibility to protect its people and has constantly made them suffer in many ways. According to this policy, which was implemented by the United Nations starting in 2005, the international community must act in the defense of the oppressed people of Syria. However, the technicalities of R2P are said to be difficult to implement, even under the pretext of international law, because some say that ‘‘is neither as widely cascaded nor as deeply internalized as is commonly suggested’’ and is often overlooked by many countries (Morris 1280). To provide reliable and effective protection for civilian populations in need around the world, the international community may have to find another principle to replace the responsibility to protect or enforce it in order to make it easier to intervene in more delicate political and social landscapes such as that of Syria and Libya.
In conclusion, Western nations do have some sort of an obligation to act as the world’s police, but they do not always need to intervene. The boundaries for military or very insisting diplomatic intervention are, at present, virtually non-existent, save for some basic human rights and United Nations resolutions. Intervention in the Syrian civil war, on order to be more genuine, must be done in the name of the Syrian people and must be done with the sole goal of defending innocent civilians and not to overthrow unwanted dictatorships. The West must act as a police force for other countries because this group of nations truly represents democratic principles and fundamental rights, but they must also let the people of countries in crisis and neighbouring regional players deal with their own problems before starting to intervene. In Syria, the opposition has great potential for victory, but it still faces many logistical obstacles, and that is where the European Union and the United States can help. It is also important to note that there are 3,977,211 registered Syrian refugees as of May 7th of this year and that millions more are displaced internally as I have written when talking about the current crisis in Yarmouk camp and its relation to the war. World powers must immediately act in their interests and find the most fitting response for the current situation.
Allison, Roy. ‘‘Russia and Syria: explaining alignment with a regime in crisis’’. International Affairs 89.4 (2013): 795-823. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 May 2015
Leenders, Reinoud. ‘‘Social Movement Theory and the Onset of the Popular Uprising in Syria’’. Arab Studies Quarterly 35.3 (2013): 273-289. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 May 2015.
Flanagan, Stephen J. ‘‘The Turkey–Russia–Iran Nexus: Eurasian Power Dynamics’’. Washington Quarterly 36.1 (2013): 163-178. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 May 2015.
Harvard Law Review. ‘‘International Law – The Responsibility to Protect – Draft Security Council Resolution Referring Syrian Conflict to the International Criminal Court Vetoed’’. Harvard Law Review 128.3 (2015): 1055-1062. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 May 2015
Morris, Justin. ‘‘Libya and Syria: R2P and the spectre of the swinging pendulum’’. International Affairs 89.5 (2013): 1265-1283. Academic Search Premier. Web 7 May 2015.
Ravelli, Bruce & Webber, Michelle. (2015). Exploring Sociology: The Concise Edition. Toronto, ON: Pearson, 2015. Print.