Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Waiting for a political solution

According to Peter Millet, UK Ambassador to Jordan, writing about Geneva II, “the fact is that the only way to bring peace is through a political process based on the Geneva communiqué.”

It is true that an end to the military conflict requires a political resolution, but it doesn’t follow that exclusively non-military means can bring about that end. For example, during the Bosnian War several attempts were made to negotiate an end to the conflict, but successful negotiations came only after decisive military action by NATO.

The rhetoric of political versus military solutions is overused to the point of parody. There are good reasons for all involved in Syria’s war to believe it may be settled by military means; if not by outright victory by one side or another, then by a settlement based on military facts on the ground. The fate of tens of thousands of Syrians have already been settled by military means. To tell people who have seen such carnage that military means are ineffective is to make a mockery of what they have suffered as targets of the regime’s military might.

Also on Geneva II, Frederic C Hof wrote that “those who say there is no military solution for Syria are really saying there are no military options they wish to exercise.”

There is a great danger in seeming to signal to the Syrian regime that the rest of the world is solely committed to diplomatic means over military ones, and that it will allow the regime free rein to pursue its military campaign of terror so long as it also sends a few diplomats to sit and exchange words at Geneva.

The Middle East provides past examples of interminable and inconclusive negotiations. The killing in Syria is occurring at too great a rate to wait for a negotiated outcome. From those same few days of initial Geneva II talks, the Violations Documentations Center in Syria lists 245 names of people killed by air attacks, out of a total of 912 documented violent deaths during the negotiations. Measures need to be taken now to protect civilians. Syria still needs a no-fly zone.

Minister of State Hugh Robertson has recently reaffirmed that under certain circumstances the UK Government regards humanitarian intervention as legal even without a UN Security Council resolution. Those circumstances were defined in a Foreign and Commonwealth Office note circulated to NATO allies in October 1998 prior to the Kosovo intervention. The text of the note was as follows:
Security Council authorisation to use force for humanitarian purposes is now widely accepted (Bosnia and Somalia provided firm legal precedents). A UNSCR would give a clear legal base for NATO action, as well as being politically desirable.

But force can also be justified on the grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity without a UNSCR. The following criteria would need to be applied:
  • (a) that there is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief;
  • (b) that it is objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved;
  • (c) that the proposed use of force is necessary and proportionate to the aim (the relief of humanitarian need) and is strictly limited in time and scope to this aim—ie it is the minimum necessary to achieve that end. It would also be necessary at the appropriate stages to assess the targets against this criterion.