‘Talk is cheap’ but in the case of Syria it’s actually proving rather expensive.
The cost of words rather than deeds measured in the untold numbers of innocent civilians who have paid with their lives.
The atrocities go on day after day, week after week and so do the utterances of outrage from the United Nations (UN). The plea is that something must be done and yet nothing is.
The rhetoric is bold and the action weak.
Even now Western powers seem to have let out an audible sigh of relief as the fighting in Aleppo has largely ended. Happy the media – by highlighting that particular battle – were no longer putting their inactivity under the microscope.
I do not for a moment underestimate the challenges and complexity that surround any sort of intervention, especially a humanitarian one. Yet if we are not going to make some sort of stand, take some sort of positive steps, then why are we offering the people of Syria any hope?
Not for the first time the impotence of the UN is on display, the fractures in the Security Council of canyon-sized proportions. The attitudes of Western nations at odds with those of Russia and China who find conscionable reasons to stand up for, rather than against, the Assad regime. Once again the UN is the dog that barks wildly but has no teeth.
As we liken Syria to another Bosnia or Rwanda it is worth remembering how ineffective the UN was in preventing those terrible tragedies in the 90s. The Srebrenica massacre the most infamous failing and an example of the UN’s inability to enforce decisive sanctions and robust action.
In theory there are others who could lead the way into Syria. The Arab League of 22 countries could seemingly and legitimately police the problem which is fairly and squarely on its own doorstep. Indeed Syria was a member of the League before being suspended in November 2011.
And there is a precedent; the Somali problem is policed by a coalition of African nations known as the African Mission in Somalia or AMISON. This mission, funded by the UN, has been proactive in keeping the peace and reactive in dealing with Al Shabab incursions.
Yet nothing is likely to happen without UN authority and that we have yet to get.
There is a difference between intervening in a country to protect civilians and intervening with the intention of regime change and it raises valid and understandable concerns. But unless the UN security-council with its six permanent members can find some kind of accord, then Syria will remain a proxy war between Russia and the US with other bit players falling in behind.
Arming the rebels in an attempt to destabilise the Assad regime was a bad decision when it was first taken and it remains a bad decision now. It has provoked a reaction from Russia who are now openly and supporting Assad militarily along with Iran.
The bombing of Islamic State irregulars is the right thing to do but in doing so supports Assad in his aim of clawing back control of his country. It seems that the unavoidable consequence of the Wests interference in Syria will be splitting the country in two, with the North East of the country forming part of an autonomous Kurdish state.
So while the UN continues to talk innocent civilians will continue to be butchered and Russia will continue to play high stakes politics with the US.
If a fragmented Syria is going to be the solution then the UN need to act now to stop the proxy war between the two security-council protagonists perpetuating the problem. Accept Assad will not be toppled and focus on a humanitarian mission in Syria and how it can be delivered.
There is a saying ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way’.
It’s about time the UN did one thing or another.
• Captain Doug Beattie MC is a UUP MLA for Upper Bann