x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

UN action on Syria shows weakness

The UN resolution seems to merely highlight how limited is the ability of the international community to challenge the Assad regime

Over the weekend, The New York Times carried a headline that, were the context not so serious, would be comical: “UN orders both sides in Syria to allow humanitarian aid”. The headline smacked of the worst type of mealy-mouthed attempts at evenhandedness, a journalistic fiction usually reserved for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For the truth is, when it comes to Syria, the UN cannot “order” anything. It cannot “order” a halt to the destruction of cities, nor an end to the disappearance and torture of thousands of Syrians.

The Syrian conflict has exposed the peculiar fantasy at the heart of the UN Security Council. That’s because this Cold War diplomatic relic offers veto power to just five countries – all, not uncoincidentally, the five that stood victorious after the Second World War ended in 1945 – the rest of the world must accept whatever destruction is deemed acceptable by any one or more of these five countries.

And the sad truth is, the current destruction of Syria is “acceptable” to the Security Council, otherwise this would not be merely the second resolution since the start of the region’s worst war.

Of course, the limited UN resolution on Syria is progress. It calls on both parties to allow relief agencies access to the country. That is certainly a step forward in such a prolonged conflict, especially one where starvation has been widely used as a method of war, and where millions are unable to get enough to eat or access to adequate medical care.

And yet such a limited victory seems to highlight the gulf between what the international community wants and what it is able to make happen. It seems so long ago that the world, horrified by what was happening in Syria, determined that Bashar Al Assad “must” go. And yet, reluctant to use force against him, he stayed. His use of chemical weapons has gone unpunished and his impoverishment of a nation is unchallenged. Threats went nowhere. Talks have gone nowhere. Even the limited evacuation of Homs was not repeated around the country.

This UN resolution seems to merely highlight how limited is the ability of the international community to challenge the Assad regime.

Small diplomatic victories like this one are welcome, but they pale against the horrors still being committed, and the action required to genuinely halt them.