Peace talks offer the perfect cover for those hell-bent on waging war
Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30
Politicians who have to sell themselves to their electorates see peace talks as an inherently good thing. Since most people prefer peace to war, national leaders will promote any approach that makes it look as if they are doing their bit.
Those on the ground may beg to differ. Since the latest round of talks to end the war in Syria began in Vienna on November 14, there has been a marked increase in its murderous participants' activities.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed by Russian air strikes - 35 on a single day last week. Dozens of schools and hospitals have been hit.
A Syrian doctor last week told how his clinic was now forced to operate entirely underground. He said, without a trace of irony, that this was not only because there was more bombing, but because Russian missiles appeared to be more accurate than regime ones, and so hit medical facilities more regularly.
This period has also seen renewed regime offensives in Aleppo and in north-eastern Damascus, where a particularly heavy bombardment last Sunday claimed at least 49 lives in the suburb of Douma, including a headmaster and several of his pupils.
Nor is it only the regime and its allies that have intensified their activities: Britain, since Vienna, has become the latest of the many countries - almost too many to count - to conduct air strikes in Syria.
Saudi Arabia has announced a new coalition of Sunni Muslim nations to fight for their co-religionists' corner, its foreign minister saying he does not rule out Saudi "boots on the ground".
Over the border in south-east Turkey, scores have died in the past four days alone in a "spillover war" between the government and its Kurdish guerrilla adversaries, the PKK. Turkish forces have also been sent into northern Iraq, to stake Ankara's claim to influence there.
The United States, meanwhile, under the cover of international outrage at Russia's blitz, quietly broadened its definition of a legitimate target to include those providing infrastructure for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). The truckers ferrying oil via its smuggling networks have felt the full force of both US and Russian missiles.
If all this were a precursor to ending hostilities, it might be a price worth paying. Unfortunately, we have been here before, and the chances of peace do not seem any different now: the UN resolution on Friday made no mention of the fate of president Bashar al-Assad, and ultimately this is a war that is all about him.
From the beginning of the conflict, there have been negotiations and ceasefire announcements. There was the inaugural Friends of Syria gathering in Tunis in January 2012, followed by the Geneva 1 conference in June of that year and a subsequent ceasefire. There was Geneva 2 in January last year.
All were heralded portentously as the beginning of the end. In each case, more war resulted.
This is no sad coincidence: in a time when even dictatorships need good public relations policies, war-war has to be disguised with jaw-jaw.
To cite another over-used aphorism: the Romans said that if you wanted peace, you had to prepare for war. Nowadays, if you want war, you prepare peace talks.