Why the UN Security Council vote on Syria is not the solution

Sunday 25/12/2016

The UN Security Council has voted — unanimously — to dispatch international observers to the beleaguered Syrian city of Aleppo to provide safety to residents wishing to flee combat zones.

There are many reasons this vote is more an attempt to absolve the international com­munity and to allow its members to shed some of the guilt they have been carrying on their shoulders like old rifles, whose function is more decorative than useful.

This resolution, which comes five years late, helps Western powers feel good with themselves rather than meet to the basic needs of the people of that city, one that has become a symbol of this dreadful war.

The reality is that this resolu­tion should have come long ago. Indeed, this vote comes much too late and offers far too little.

Why this scepticism?

Because observation forces have never stopped atrocities or put an end to fighting in the many parts of the world they have been deployed to.

Typically, there are too few observers for the force to be effective. The regions they typically deploy to are large enough that those wishing to commit war crimes without being seen simply go around the corner from where the observers are positioned.

Observers are not peacekeepers nor are they a peace implementa­tion force. In fact, UN observers have no authority on the ground, nor do they have the means to intervene militarily if they had to.

Typically, what UN observers do is precisely as their title indicates: They observe. They observe and report to the Secu­rity Council, which files a formal complaint with the offending party or parties.

To put things into perspective, this is what likely happens: Let us imagine that a group of 100-150 civilians — men, women and children of all ages — is trying to make its way out of eastern Aleppo when they suddenly stumble upon armed men who may or may not be members of the Syrian Armed Forces.

As the gunmen round up the civilians, UN observers arrive. They intervene, telling the armed men their actions go counter to conventions of war.

The conversation unfolds in English with a mixture of varying Asian accents on one side and heavy Arabic accents on the other. Both sides have difficulty understanding the other.

Nevertheless, the UN troops succeed in delaying what would have certainly been an execution. Underline the word “delaying”, as it is what transpires. The international observers suc­ceeded only in buying a few more minutes for the ill-fated civilians trying to flee Aleppo and the horror that has developed there.

The UN observers believe they have convinced the gunmen to stand down and lower their weapons.

A few minutes later the observ­ers hear gunfire coming from the area they had just left. They rush to the scene where they find the lifeless bodies of dozens of refugees. The observers write up a report and file it to headquar­ters in New York.

Headquarters tones down some of the wordage from the original report, replacing language used by the observers with more diplomatic grammar.

The report goes before the Security Council where it is read. In their final analysis, the observers confirm that the massacre was perpetrated by forces loyal to the Syrian president — perhaps but not a certainty — by members of the Syrian Armed Forces. Syria is chastised by the Security Council. The ambassadors of the United States, Britain and France — permanent members of the Security Council — denounce “in the strongest term possible that such actions will not be tolerated” or else.

Or else what?

Precisely. With Russia having the right to veto any Security Council resolution, the Western powers can only go so far.

How are the perpetrators of such hideous war crimes pun­ished when they are backed by a sovereign state? They are threat­ened with economic sanctions. Syria has been under sanctions for years for its support of terrorism.

There is a threat to sever diplomatic relations but, then again, is it wise to pull out all US diplomatic personnel and leave Damascus entirely to the Rus­sians?

So it goes. Another UN resolu­tion that will be ignored. At least now the blame for the continued violence can be laid entirely on the Syrians and others walk away from the whole mess with a clear conscience.