This week the international press reminds us with figures and dramatic images of the bloody war which has now been going on for 4 years, taking human lives, displacing families and destroying the scant facilities which still remain standing in that country called “Al-Sham”: Syria. The international community and the global public opinion seem to show a certain indifference, even greater in the case of the European public opinion. There have not been large demonstrations and statements demanding more engaged actions from the European politicians in order to urgently bring to a stop this humanitarian crisis and the perverse spiral of violence and destruction. Why has nothing been done to prevent this war that has taken more than 200,000 lives and split this great country into opposing communities? The outcome is distressing: an exodus of 12,000,000 Syrians, now refugees, and millions of them living in extreme conditions.
The oldest country in the Middle East, cradle of civilizations, remains a key piece in the board of the future of humanity, and, as pointed out by Henry Kissinger, it is the country without which you cannot make peace in the Middle East. Therefore, is Syria the stage of the twenty-first century Armageddon, with diplomacy virtually missing and always behind the events? Diplomacy’s attempts have been belated and largely ill-focused. There haven’t been any serious, consistent and effective actions to put a stop to barbarism, which is the opposite of civilization. This argument must deter those who think and advance that the only way to solve or go beyond this war is the Syrian catharsis. My stance opposes this opinion and, as I pointed out some time ago, the path of violence and civil war was chosen over a political and diplomatic solution.
We can now go on as before: let time and despair end up advising the parties to seek a negotiated solution. Or, on the contrary, speed up and determinedly demand an urgent end to the crisis. Otherwise, we would be accepting that this new century grows accustomed to live with permanent regional conflicts, with death and destruction playing a starring part in the numb narration of our everyday life. How is it possible that we have not yet been able to impose a ceasefire in Syria? What are we waiting for? Is this a conflict such as those that took place after World War Two? Will there be peace after a short period ensuing the end of hostilities? This is what happened in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and the various wars of ‘56, ‘67, ‘73 and ‘82. Why hasn’t it been achieved in Syria? Some analysts say, and not without reason, that because of Russia’s and China’s block at the United Nation Security Council. This probably is one of the reasons, but apart from this, the adequate diplomacy was not implemented to convince these players and stop the conflict.
The Syrian war has promoted “drone diplomacy”, that is, distance diplomacy, since there are no on-site envoys nor accredited ambassadors in Damascus. There are only intelligence services, media and NGDO’s to meet humanitarian needs in such a hostile environment. Meanwhile, there is nobody on site negotiating a ceasefire and the end of the conflict, except for Staffan de Mistura, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy.
The mistakes of the diplomatic management implemented until now in Syria must be avoided. In the first weeks of the conflict, a change of regime was sought and President Bashar al Assad was urged to resign and take up exile. After months of stagnation, the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, travelled to Syria to negotiate with al-Assad. The red lines which, if infringed, would trigger a military intervention from the United States and its allies were then set forth. They were indeed infringed, but there was no diplomatic dialogue and no negotiated solution was sought, although there seems to be an agreement concerning Syria’s nuclear decommissioning. Afterwards, eyes closed and war went on. The opposition militia was armed and, with passivity from almost all players, the creation of today’s “great enemy of the West”, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), was allowed. It was supplied with weapons and funding, and enabled to take the political and military space of a modern and moderate opposition, although this did not bear fruit. All of this brought about that, instead of playing in the field of “diplomacy, dialogue and politics”, the military option was chosen. The “Al-Nusra” militia showed more capacity than the representatives of an opposition more at ease in Paris or Washington halls and in the Gulf capital cities.
Most of the analysts agree in pointing out that the main responsibility for the conflict lies with Bashar al Assad. This may be so, but he is still in charge of his government in Damascus. Since it has not been done to date, why not seeking now a political or diplomatic formula to find a negotiated solution with a timescale, a process and a reasonable agreement? The main goal is avoiding the bloodbath of the Syrian people, its citizens and its World Heritage sites.
Fortunately, the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, has admitted that “they will have to negotiate with Bashar al Assad“. This decision could have been taken earlier. It has been said that Geneva I and Geneva II conferences have been failed attempts. Maybe. But in diplomacy, when there is a failure, one must always keep on looking for ways of solution. Therefore, why not urgently call a Geneva III conference but under different parameters and with other participants? How is it possible that everyone agrees on pointing to Iran as a fundamental player in the support of the Syrian government, with leverage and capacity for action, but it is excluded from the table? Fortunately, there is an ongoing dialogue with Iran to stop its potential capacity of nuclear destruction and the agreement seems to be ripe. Why then can’t Teheran contribute to bring the war in Syria to a halt?
I think we must examine these decisions in a critical spirit and draw the relevant lessons from the mistaken actions implemented to date. It is in this process that Europeans should take the initiative and stop this war, not only due to its toll in human lives and heritage, but also because it is vital for our interests. Syria is not a remote country. In several European states we have suffered from the perverse effects of this conflict, and we have also taken in the prevailing horror through images, statements and reports. We cannot remain oblivious to the deployment and the atrocities of the ISIS. The European Union and its High Representative must lead an urgent peace mission for the region.
It is greatly appreciated that the United Nations in New York have opened a photography exhibition denouncing the horrors of war, but that is not enough. United Nations must maintain peace and safety and its Security Council must mobilize in the face of wars and conflicts. There are now 4 European countries which are members of the Council, among them Spain. Our country, together with other European states, can lead the initiative to seek yet again a ceasefire and demand the immediate implementation of a humanitarian corridor. Lastly, it could request that a new conference, Geneva III, be called, to give up the strategy followed until now and foster a new negotiation process. These four years of war have proved that there is no military solution. Political and diplomatic channels will have to be consolidated, since this is the solution that will avoid the human and humanitarian tragedy of millions of Syrians, and our relationships and security will increase thereby. Therefore, in the face of the horror of the conflict in Syria, let politics and diplomacy come back to Syria!