Since the Syria conflict began in 2011, I have advocated that for humanitarian reasons, we need to be prepared to act if, and only if, necessary to prevent mass civilian casualties. I fully appreciate that there are many different factions involved, and intervention would be extremely difficult. Lessons from history show that despotic regimes can be forced to comply with international law and conventions if confronted with a genuine willingness to intervene by the international community. Saddam Hussein was believed to have been complying with UN resolutions by Hans Blix and the IAEA prior to the invasion of Iraq, because there was a credible threat of interventions.
Given the complexity of the Syrian situation and the perception that Western intervention is only done in self interest, I have advocated from the start that we should be building new alliances, and applying diplomatic pressure on the Arab League to take a lead on ensuring the conflict did not escalate into a humanitarian disaster. Unfortunately the Arab League’s initial intervention proved to be a damp squib. On the other hand, John Kerry did form new alliances in support of intervention after Assad’s use of chemical weapons, which will hopefully lay the ground work for future relations between the West and Middle East.
This latest article demonstrates again that the paralysis in the West over intervention in Syria, has yet again allowed a humanitarian disaster to unfold.
There is an argument that suggests that the US were too hasty to act after Assad’s heavy use of chemical weapons, and that the solution of destroying the stocks only came about because the Lib Dems in the UK government were not prepared to support the bombing. However, I believe that whilst the Lib Dems allowed for the window of opportunity for this option to be explored, this solution was only possible because the US showed a willingness to intervene on humanitarian grounds. The massacre of thousand by chemical weapons demonstrates that Assad did not fear intervention in the slightest until a credible threat was given by the US.
Nor was the solution of destroying the chemical weapons something the emerged just within that time frame. On the contrary, the US Government began preparation for the disposal facilities in February 2013, months before the 21 August attack in the Ghouta region.
The US had identified a solution for Assad’s chemical weapon arsenal and the Ghouta incident provide the opportunity to deploy it. Assad would only comply with a credible threat of intervention, and the US needed to demonstrate that it was not acting unilaterally. With old alliances not provide the support, John Kerry rightly chose to look elsewhere for support, before heading to Russia to get agreement on a solution that dealt with the chemical weapons, but did not require intervention.
John Kerry toured a number of countries to secure their support for action, growing past the traditional alliances that no longer match the security challenges we now face. I would seriously hope that this is the start of a new diplomatic relationship with the Middle East, that encourages the Arab League and other multinational groups to take a lead in their regional security.
Building new mutually beneficial relationships is the long term approach needed for Syria and for the Middle East, and should have begun in 2011, not in reaction to Assad’s use of chemical weapons.