Thursday,16 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Thursday,16 August, 2018
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Resolving the Syrian crisis

While it skirted the existence of two opposed camps with differing prescriptions on how to resolve the Syrian crisis, Security Council Resolution 2254 should be supported by Arab states, writes Hassan Nafaa

Al-Ahram Weekly

The UN Security Council has powers that enable it to deal effectively with crises that pose a threat to international peace and security, on the condition of unanimity of will among the permanent members of this body. If such a consensus exists, the Security Council can bring to bear either or both of the following measures. The first is to formulate a general conception for a political settlement, which could include a detailed roadmap implementable within a defined timeframe. This is the procedure the Security Council has just pursued through the adoption (on 18 December 2015) of Resolution 2254 on the Syrian crisis. The second course is to impose the settlement it believes necessary, even if this requires the use of military force, in accordance with the provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The Security Council’s formulation of a conception for a settlement does not necessarily pave the way for the imposition of this conception by force, if required. The pursuit of the first measure may be a part of an international policy specifically designed to manage the crisis in a manner that conforms to the interests of the great powers, though not necessarily to resolve the crisis in accordance with the demands of justice or international law. So, is the adoption of Resolution 2254 an aim in and of itself, to promote international management of the Syrian crisis in accordance with the interests of the great powers, or is it meant to pave the way for the imposition of the conceived settlement process through the use of armed force?

In order to produce a clear answer to this question we must first analyse, as precisely as possible, the substance and significance of the Security Council resolution at this particular time, in spite of the continuing differences between the various parties to the Syrian crisis over the causes of this conflict and ways to solve it. One camp believes that the Syrian crisis was caused by a dictatorial regime that has no compunction about massacring its own people in order to stay in power. Accordingly, it is impossible to resolve this crisis without removing the regime that ignited it, as this is an indispensable condition for empowering a people that is fighting to secure its freedom to determine its future through free and fair elections. Another camp, however, believes that the crisis was the work of terrorist groups that are spreading in a region that has never known democracy and is still unequipped to accept it. Therefore, a solution to the crisis requires, firstly, the elimination of those groups as an indispensable condition for empowering the Syrian people to determine their own fate through free and fair elections. Which view does Resolution 2254 side with?

In fact, close inspection of the text and spirit of this resolution reveals that the Security Council has tried to overcome this type of futile debate by inclining to the point of view that holds that international terrorism, for which the Syrian crisis has become one of the foremost incubators, is the chief danger that must be given priority at present since it threatens all peoples throughout the world and not just the Syrian people. This view simultaneously holds that the aspirations of the Syrian people must not be sacrificed and recognises their right to fight in order to establish a system of government that is representative of all the Syrian people. We note, for example, the following aspects of the text of Resolution 2254:

- It makes no reference to the Syrian regime by name. It treats that regime as a party on an equal footing with the “moderate” opposition parties, and it calls on all parties (the regime and opposition) to halt hostilities and enter into negotiations, under UN supervision, in order to reach arrangements for an interim phase, the aim of which is to enable the Syrian people to draft a new constitution and hold new presidential and parliamentary elections.

- It does refer by name to both Islamic State/Daesh and Al-Nusra Front as terrorist organisations that must be eliminated, while it acknowledges that there are other terrorist organisations, although a dialogue is still in progress with an eye to agreeing on a unified list that would include them all.

- The resolution implicitly maintains that the question of toppling the ruling regime in Syria is not - nor should be - the concern of any party other than the Syrian people themselves, as it is they who have the right to elect their own president at the end of an interim phase, the details and management of which are to be formulated with the participation of the opposition and conducted under the supervision of the UN.

On the basis of this general conception for a settlement, which was approved by all members of the Security Council, Resolution 2254 establishes a timetable as follows:

- A target of early January 2016 was set for the initiation of talks between representatives of the regime and opposition that would be convened by the UN secretary general. The talks, which are to proceed in the framework of the Geneva Communiqué and Vienna Statements, are to last six months and culminate in an agreement over the mechanisms for drafting a new constitution in the basis of which parliamentary and presidential elections will be held.

- The resolution outlines a nationwide ceasefire, that does not include the fight against terrorist organisations, to begin as soon as the parties concerned have taken initial steps towards a political transition, the constituent provisions and stages of which are to be completed within 18 months.

- The war will continue against all designated terrorist organisations, including those that may be added to the list at a later stage, until they are entirely eliminated. This provision implicitly presumes that both opposition factions and the regime will cooperate with international and regional efforts to eradicate terrorist organisations.

- The resolution also implicitly presumes that the process of reconstruction will begin in areas where the ceasefire is concluded and that are liberated from the control of terrorist organisations, so as to enable displaced persons and refugees to return to their homes and to enable all Syrian citizens to take part freely in the processes of the transitional phase conducted under the supervision of the UN through the referendum on a new constitution followed by the election of a new president and parliamentary elections.

Certainly the task of putting a settlement such as this into effect will be far from easy. The camp that insists that Bashar Al-Assad must go first will tend to see the proposed roadmap as biased in favour of the opposing camp on the grounds that it permits a regime that has made war on its own people to take part in the management of the transitional phase. This, they hold, will give that regime the opportunity it has been waiting for to use the war against terrorism to rehabilitate itself and recover its bases of influence, for which reason it will see it in its interests to prolong the interim phase indefinitely. The other camp, which insists on the eradication of the terrorist organisations first, will tend to see the proposed roadmap as biased in favour of the first camp. They hold that there are no reliable divisions between the so-called moderate opposition and the extremists, or that all parties that bear arms against the regime are extremist and terrorist forces. Therefore, to allow them to take part in the management of the transitional phase will grant them a form of legitimacy and enable them to influence the outcome of this phase in a manner that will sow the seeds for a resurgence of extremism. Accordingly, they argue, the process will not immunise Syria against future schemes to ignite civil strife in the region and to redraw borders on a sectarian basis.

Under such conditions, the Security Council could find itself compelled to adopt another resolution, invoking Article VII of the UN Charter in order to institute tough sanctions, perhaps including the use of force, against those who obstruct the implementation of the roadmap. Such a prospect, however, does not appear likely in light of the current balances of power in the regional and international orders. The other option is to allow the crisis to continue to brew on the ground, while taking precautions to control its dynamics so as to avert a military clash with Russia until after the US presidential elections are held next year. This would be the most likely alternative, but the people of the region and the Syrian people above all would pay a heavy toll.

It is in the interests of all the Arab countries to promote the immediate implementation of the roadmap proposed by the UN Security Council Resolution. Ultimately, the real problem is not whether Bashar stays as a party to the interim phase, but rather how to empower the Syrian people to choose their own rulers, a process in which the UN can play a major role. If a process of this sort had been set in motion three or four years ago, Syria today may have been without Bashar Al-Assad and without terrorist groups.

To allow the current situation to persist will merely give both Bashar and the terrorist groups opportunity to gain more time, all at the expense of the Syrian people and the resources of the rest of the peoples of the region.

The writer is a professor of political science, Cairo University.

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