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Last Updated: 09/27/2013The fallacy of armed intervention and the tragedy of violence
Andres Jimenez discusses the ongoing violence in Syria and the fallacy of conflict resolution through further violence. Jimenez argues that the increasing participation of regional and international powers makes Syria a focal point of larger conflicting interests, frustrating peace efforts; rather, the role of the international community should be to support the Syrian people themselves and Syrian civil society as they struggle to reach an acceptable socio-political settlement - ideally through nonviolent means.
The idea that the Syrian conflict will be stopped through the use of violence is as tragic and misguided as the belief that a popular revolution will succeed through the use of a similar approach. Western leader’s sudden call for a military solution to the Syrian Civil War is part of the same disastrous and hypocritical rationale that motivated thousands of mostly young men to take up arms and engage in a violent struggle against the Syrian regime.
So far, what the Syrian government and the plethora of oppositional rebel groups have succeeded in achieving is to effectively polarize and rip apart the social fabric of the Syrian society. It is hard to imagine how the illegal[i] and hastily put together[ii] case for military intervention will not contribute to further destabilize and polarize the region as a whole. As complicated as the option to intervene militarily in a region as volatile as the Middle East might seem to be, it pales in comparison with the task of rebuilding a shattered society and healing the wounds of a destroyed nation.
Not only has the Syrian conflict been hijacked by extremist groups that have monopolized the struggle for political change, but the main international actors intent in playing a role in Syria remain far from being neutral parties to the conflict. On the contrary, they are the very same actors that have exercised their influence in the region for decades and whose interests have been at play since the start of the civil war.
The Western powers are certainly the first to claim the moral high ground and their position as guarantors of international peace. However, the United States’ acquiescence of the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqi government[iii] – a then US ally – during its brutal war against Iran in 1988 or its widespread use of depleted uranium shells in Fallujah in 2004[iv], struggle to fit well with the Obama administration’s self-serving rhetoric about a moral responsibility to act in Syria.
Let’s not be so quick to believe that the global powers hold the destiny of the Syrian civilians at the top of their priority list. Certainly national and international geopolitical interests hold more consideration in conference rooms around the world, than the needs of the Syrian people. After all, if we pay attention to the US media’s coverage of the Syrian conflict in the last weeks we can see how its main debate points have hovered around the issue of how a failure to militarily strike the Assad regime would affect the credibility of the US President’s international[v]. Excluded from most debates are the implications that a so called “surgical strike” may have on a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation[vi].
Was the world not shocked by the appearance of some of the first videos showing the execution of captured Syrian soldiers in November 2012[vii] or by the horrific retrieval of over one hundred bodies from a river in the south of Aleppo in January this year[viii]? It seems that the sudden Western decisiveness to action responds more to a careful evaluation of the benefits and consequences of intervention, rather than a genuine care for the needs and interests of the Syrian people.
Moreover, Western leaders continue to demonstrate their complete inability to disengage from their addiction to the military intervention approach. The plans for a military operation in Syrian have been described in the US media as the “Goldilocks approach” in which any military attack must not be “too hard or too soft, but just right”[ix].
Such an approach sees military interventions as finely tuned machines, where targets are clearly identified, actions finely controlled, and outcomes accurately predicted. From Afghanistan and Iraq, to Libya and Mali, this mechanistic approach to assistance and intervention continues to demonstrate its inability to bring stability and peace since it remains tragically oblivious to the deeply complex and chaotic reality of conflict on the ground.
Last month’s chemical weapons attack in Ghouta has managed to bring back to the world’s attention the plight of the Syrian people. It has understandably evoked our most primordial need to assist and desire to act. This tragic event has led many to vehemently call for the need to reference the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine as a legal and moral justification for military intervention. However, little consideration is given to the idea that the international community stands a higher probability of honouring the principles established in the R2P Doctrine by finally granting the necessary support to the numerous emergency humanitarian aid organizations struggling to grapple with the Syrian humanitarian catastrophe, than by deliberating over the need to support a decisive military strike against the Syrian regime.
While talk of standing strong against Assad gathers increased international attention, the vital assistance work of dozens of emergency humanitarian organizations remains drastically underfunded. The calls for international support by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ant-nio Guterres[x], continue to go unattended, and the number of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt has now crossed the two million mark[xi].
As the Syrian conflict escalates into a wider regional conflict, the geopolitical interests of the international actors continue to take centre stage. The sad reality is that the Syrian people find themselves at the very bottom of this priority scale. As numerous scholars of nonviolent action have demonstrated, violent conflicts are highly undemocratic struggles generally directed by an elite group of people willing to commit to mass violence in order to achieve their objectives. The Syrian Revolution has been stolen from the Syrian people and it needs to be recovered by them.
What is needed in Syria is for the killing to stop and for the warring factions to abandon the use of violence. It is impossible however, to effectively predict how this could best be achieved. The Syrian conflict presents us with such a complex situation that it remains impossible to know how to possibly solve it. However, the creation of an environment in which nonviolent approaches to the conflict might start to develop could prove promising. The establishment of local cease fire zones for example, could be an encouraging step that could allow international humanitarian organizations and unarmed civilian peacekeepers to be deployed in order to protect civilians and begin supporting Syrian civil society in building peace from the bottom up[xii].
Ultimately, the most effective initiatives to transform the Syrian conflict can only be developed with the direct assistance and involvement of the Syrian people themselves through a direct commitment to nonviolent methods of social and political struggle. It is only the Syrian society who can guarantee that these initiatives are effective and that they directly respond to their needs and interest. International actors could play a vital role by supporting the Syrian civil society in this process. There are no clear, easy to follow solutions to the Syrian conflict. However, what does become ever more evident is that any solutions to this ruthless war will certainly not come at this moment from the world’s main centres of power.
Andres Jimenez works as a training coordinator at Fundación Rasur, Costa Rica. He holds an MA from the University for Peace.