Syria: to intervene, or not to intervene ?

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(Photo credits: telegraph.co/uk)

After over two years of unrest and violence, Syria’s crisis remains characterized by dilemmas and contradictions. A menu of imperfect choices confronts policymakers, amid fears of continued violence, a humanitarian crisis and regional instability.

To date, debate has largely focused on the humanitarian and regional balance of the power implications brought on by the uprising. Debate over civilian protection reflects differences of opinion between those who embrace the principle of a so-called ‘’responsibility to protect’’ and those who argue that such protection, while admirable and even desirable in some contexts, should not be endorsed in general terms because of the commitments it implies and the often unpredictable consequences of military intervention. Moreover, according to Article 2 of The UN Charter, ‘’The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members’’ (paragraph 2), which defines that intervention constitutes a violation of the principles of self determination and state sovereignty.

Additionally, according to paragraph 7 of the same article ‘’Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII ‘’ .

The dilemma remains. Intervention or respect to the priciples of the UN Charter?

Critics of intervention and arms supply proposals highlighting potential risks related to arming opposition forces that are not unified. Others believe that the ongoing situation in Syria is a potential threat to international peace and security and efficient measures have to be taken rapidly by the UNSC, according to Chapter VII.

At this point another issue has to be taken into consideration: the right to veto of the permanent members of the UN Security Council on any decision tends to create more complications. Their current debate focuses on the potential risks and benefits of various humanitarian or military intervention proposals and those of maintaining current sanctions and diplomatic policies. National interests are the main reason of these vetos. China and Russia, both ‘’rationally’’ estimate that they have a lot to lose if the Assad regime falls.

The U.S. policy toward Syria has ranged from confrontation and containment to cautious engagement since the 1980s. The Obama Administration has pursued the following policies towards Syria, since the uprising against the Assad regime began: a democratic transition, international diplomacy, sanctions, humanitarian and non-lethal aid, disruption of arms shipments to Syria, intelligence coordination and contingency planning.

Not only is the unrest creating new opportunities for Al Quaeda and other extremist groups to operate in Syria, but what is even more concerning is the potential spillover effects of continued fighting with regards to neighboring countries Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Israel. Iran is the one country that on the whole has remained supportive of the current Syrian government. Iran somehow has the upper hand, and the United States, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are looking at how to turn the table.

If al-Assad survives, Iran will be the big winner and it could emerge with a sphere of influence stretching from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, via Hezbollah. Thus, the decline of Assad’s regime is a strategic blow to Iranians in two ways. First, the wide reaching sphere of influence they were creating clearly won’t happen now and second, Iran will go from being an adiascent power to a power on the defensive. If al-Assad falls, the balance of power in the region would change drastically; Turkey would become a strong regional power and Israel would not ‘’conserve’’ security dilemma.

But the big question of the whole situation is: where is the European Union? Contrary to the intervention in Libya, the EU has not had any interference in the Syrian issue and has kept a moderate stance since the beginning of the crisis. Once again the EU has not shown a strong position in a crisis taking place on the other side of their ‘’neighborhood’’. The EU is submersing and this is evident.

Unfortunately, one thing is for sure; the end is nowhere to be seen in the near-future. We will have to see what the next day will bring but whatever comes as result doesn’t look like it’s going to be encouraging for Syrian people.

Fotios Stravoravdis

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