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April 11, 2012, Wednesday

Syria: a challenging formula with many variables

The crisis in Syria is causing me much anguish as it does many people in Turkey. About 100 innocent people die every day, and the death toll is currently around 10,000. This massacre is happening right next door, which not only overwhelms but infuriates us. We had very tragic experiences in the recent past like the massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia. As recently as 1994, 800,000 Tutsi and dissident Hutu were slain by the Hutu regime in Rwanda as the seeds of hostility sown by colonialists flourished.

The Bosnian massacre came just in its wake. This time the massacre was in the heart of Europe. The so-called “justification” was that the Rwanda massacre happened in the black and forsaken continent of Africa, i.e., “in the heart of the other world,” and could therefore be ignored. This justification couldn’t apply to Bosnia. But it could. About 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were destroyed by Serbian forces in what was later called the Srebrenica massacre while Dutch soldiers based at a nearby United Nations safe have just watched on. As in Rwanda and other genocides, thousands of women were raped as the perpetrators of these genocides believed that it was not enough just to kill men to destroy the enemy race.

At that time, harsh criticisms were directed at the UN for functioning in harmony with the whims and interests of the hegemonic powers and the cold rules of Realpolitik. The UN was used as a tool of oppression by five countries that used veto power to further their interests -- and it is still being used as such, as seen in the case of Syria. Rwanda and Bosnia together were a turning point. The Cold War era had ended. The international community would not easily accept massacres or genocides. People started to suggest that the UN should meddle with such crises more actively. This debate was productive. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, which I have discussed in previous articles, is the product of these discussions. Officially established in 2005, the R2P doctrine provided the legal basis for the UN to respond quickly to critical crises to avert potential genocide. According to the R2P doctrine, if there is a serious threat to lives of civilians in a country and the government is uneager or unable to prevent this risk, then the UN is legally obliged to intervene. The UN also assumes the responsibility of compensating for damage done during such an intervention.

Turkey has started to bring the R2P doctrine to the agenda regarding the Syrian crisis. If the UN General Assembly passes a R2P resolution concerning the Syrian crisis, this alone will contribute greatly to the solution. Given the fact that the deadline for the plan brokered by Kofi Annan has passed and Syrian forces continue to kill people even at the Turkish border, only the immorality of the rule of Realpolitik and the hegemony of certain actors within the UN can keep the UN from passing such a resolution.

It is not realistic to assert that the collapse of the Syrian regime is imminent and it will survive only for six months even if no external intervention is made. A totalitarian regime needs three conditions to survive: First, there should be a global power that backs this regime. In the case of Syria, its regime is supported by two global powers: China and Russia. Second, it needs the support of a regional power. Syria has such support from Iran. Third, internal support for the regime should continue. Many groups who have doubts about a post-Assad Syria and the form of governance which the Syrian National Council (SNC) would exhibit continue to lend support to Bashar al-Assad. Despite their promises about democratic demands, the weak and fragmented structure of the Muslim Brotherhood and the SNC does not inspire confidence.

Accordingly, the Syrian regime can be overthrown only with an external intervention. It is fanciful to assume that Assad’s rule will collapse on its own without an external intervention. Yet China and Russia must be convinced before any intervention. And Iran poses a far greater problem… Having asserted its dominance in Baghdad, Iran seeks to complete the Shiite Crescent with Syria and close the doors of the Middle East completely in the face of Turkey. On the other hand, the Israeli-Iranian war, postponed because of the US elections, may foment a third world war when combined with an intervention in Syria. Already, two bombs are ready to explode in the Middle East.

Therefore, Iran, too, must be convinced to support intervention and Syria must be kept under duress with cooperation from Russia, China and Iran while the UN plays the R2P card as an iron hand in a velvet glove. This seems to me the challenging yet most reasonable way to solve the crisis.

At this point, Turkey may be influential in justifying the immorality of Realpolitik.

Unfortunately, this is the truth about the Realpolitik of the Syrian crisis.

Previous articles of the columnist