Sunday 19 November 2017

Empty rhetoric on war-crimes won't stop war

In June 2012 I wrote in this column about the situation in Syria, at which point the death toll had reached 19,000. In April this year I again wrote about Syria and the death toll had reached 70,000. This is my third piece on Syria and the death toll has exceeded 100,000.

This week 1,429 people were added to that number, and all of a sudden the US and the UK and other major powers have started to talk about a necessary humanitarian intervention.

Why all of a sudden has everything changed, while up until now it was ok to stand by and watch 100,000 people die by conventional bombs and weapons? Why, when only 1,429 people, a mere fraction of the total, die by chemical weapons, does everything change?

Three times in the past 27 months, the UN Security Council has debated resolutions about possible military intervention in Syria, and three times those resolutions have failed to be adopted.

In the immediate aftermath of the chemical weapons attack last week, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, promised to bring a new resolution to the UN Security Council as early as this Wednesday. He went to his Parliament and was shot down. The American President similarly said that this was a grave situation and that the United States would not stand idly by.

Unfortunately David Cameron's defeat means that the 'Bush-Blair' partnership that worked for Iraq is dead in the water. Both men said they wanted to send out a clear message to the Assad regime, and to the world, that the use of chemical weapons is a war-crime and would not be tolerated.

The hypocrisy is that both men had no problem standing by and watching 100,000 people die by conventional weapons. Because the truth is that they believe an American life or a British life to be more important than the life of a Syrian, be it a man, a woman or a child.

The truth is that America and Britain don't want to waste their financial resources on a military intervention where, unlike Libya, they really have nothing to gain. Intervention happened in Libya within 8 months of the outbreak of hostilities because Libya had oil and oil is important. The truth is that states act in their own self-interests, and Syrian lives aren't as important to the West as Libyan oil is.

China and Russia have strong objections to humanitarian intervention breaching the sovereignty of other states and imposing regime change, because they don't want a precedent to be set. The obvious human rights' violations in their own countries could lead to future humanitarian intervention and regime change, and they certainly don't want that. For this reason, China and Russia vetoed the three previous resolutions concerning Syria at the UN Security Council, and will veto the next.

America has no strategic interest in Syria, and certainly another Iraq or Afghanistan would be immensely unpopular with the voters, and so Obama will make noise, but I'd be very surprised if anything more happened. The UK have already voted down the Prime Minister's proposal in the House of Commons, and so ends their mandate to do anything and Cameron is off the hook.

The UN will huff and puff but China and Russia will still veto, and so ends any possibility of their intervening. Ultimately these 355 people that died last week won't be the last casualties of the Syrian conflict. There'll be thousands more, because nobody cares enough to do anything about it.

I've no problem with any President or Prime Minister acting in the best interests of their own people – that's what they were elected to do. But meaningless political catchphrases and empty rhetoric about war-crimes doesn't prevent bloodshed and slaughter.

Gorey Guardian

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