Crisis meeting at UN deadlocked on Syria bloodbath

In Syria, a president is murdering his people. The international community is horrified – but paralysed. Some countries want to intervene – but Russia says meddling is out of the question.

Yesterday the streets of Syria‘s ancient capital echoed again with the increasingly familiar sounds of battle. The autocratic ruler Bashar al Assad first turned his troops on opposition demonstrators last March. Since then his crackdown has become a brutal operation claiming the lives of thousands, many of them peaceful protesters.

This weekend the government launched attacks on rebel strongholds in the suburbs of the capital and the hills that surround it. The opposition has responded by calling for ‘a day of anger and mourning.’

Meanwhile a less deadly but equally crucial confrontation is developing far away in New York. At the United Nations headquarters, the UN Security Council, a group of the world’s strongest military powers, has gathered to discuss Syria’s plight. So far no agreement seems likely.

France, Britain and the USA have joined Syria’s fellow Arab nations in crafting a draft resolution which would call for the resignation of Assad. But Russia is firmly opposed. As one of the Council’s key members the country has the right to block any resolution – a right it intends to use.

America and the European countries argue that great global powers have a moral responsibility to condemn Assad. They insist that they have no intention of using military force, only of putting peaceful pressure on a cruel and violent regime.

So why does Russia disagree? One reason may be its close ties to Syria, which include arms deals. It is possible that Russia is acting hardheadedly in its own interests.

But there may be less selfish motives: Russian diplomats are suspicious that a threat of ‘further measures’ could really mean further conflict, despite denials from America and Europe. They view intervention as misguided meddling by the USA and its allies, a sure ‘pathway to civil war’.

The Russians propose bringing government and opposition together for negotiations. But rebels refuse to tolerate or trust a regime that has ruthlessly slaughtered their comrades for months. For them, compromise means defeat.

A foreign affair?

Supporters of the resolution see Assad’s treatment of Syrian citizens as blatantly indefensible. Is it not the international community’s responsibility, they ask, to defend Syrians however we reasonably can – at least through words, if not deeds?

Russia and its supporters believe that this attitude is arrogant and dangerous. Foreign powers might think they are helping Syrians by meddling, but they will end up being nothing but interfering outsiders. Upsetting the balance this way could ultimately make the struggle even more bloody than it already is.

You Decide

  1. Is Russia taking a principled stand or just sticking up for its own interests?
  2. Do governments ever have the right to intervene in the domestic affairs of other countries?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are a protester in Syria. Decide whether you would welcome help from foreign countries, and write a letter to the leaders of Europe and America in which you either ask for help or warn them to stay out.
  2. Research some of the sanctions that the UN could impose on Syria, military and otherwise. Which ones would you support? Write up your answers in a report.

Some People Say...

“The West should get its nose out of other countries’ business.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So what would this resolution actually do?
Its first effect would be to unite players on the global stage against Assad. Supporters of the resolution hope that this will be enough to weaken him without any need for more direct action.
And if it isn’t?
What these ‘further measures’ threatened in the resolution would consist of is rather hazy. Possibilities include cutting economic or diplomatic ties or stopping travel to and from Syria. But a military solution hasn’t been completely ruled out, so this is still a possibility.
If the regime does change, what then?
Syria is a big deal in the Middle East. Militant groups in Israel and Lebanon rely on Syrian support, so any change there could echo through the region.

Word Watch

Syria
Syria is home to some of the world’s oldest human settlements, and the many ancient empires that ruled it have left rich historical remains. During last year’s ‘Arab Spring’, Syrians rebelled against Bashar al Assad after forty years of rule by the Assad family. So far, however, he has managed to cling to power.
Bashar al Assad
After his father’s death in 2000, Bashar al Assad succeeded him as president. He has won two overwhelming election victories, but this is less impressive when you consider that nobody was allowed to oppose him. Since protests last March he has killed thousands of his subjects and imprisoned and tortured many more.
UN Security Council
An arm of the UN made up of five permanent members – the USA, China, Russia, Britain and France – and ten who are elected once every two years. The Security Council’s responsibility is to ensure international peace and stability.
Resolution
Decisions are made by the United Nations in the form of resolutions, which are voted on by representatives from the countries involved. In the Security Council, every permanent member has a veto – this means that all five must accept a resolution before it is passed.

Subjects

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