It’s been two years since the contagion effect of the Arab Spring reached Syrian territory. Today, the number of refugees, deaths, war crimes and disappearances are skyrocketing; still, the international community remains silent.
The United Nations Refugee Agency reported 1 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries this week. According to the agency, “around 7,000 to 8,000 Syrians are leaving the country daily”. Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and even Egypt are the main destination of those who manage to escape the climate of violence and repression in Syria, and are now struggling to face the challenges of the upscale migration flush.
Though alarming, the report does not reveal a new trend. During 2012 various accusations and reports demonstrated the critical condition of the Syrian crisis. The reports of torture, rape, mass killings, violent repressions in entire cities, and the collapse of the most basic structures for everyday life in the country have been aired in multiple media outlets and international forums since the beginning of the conflict. However, what is truly distressing is the lack of determination on the issue by some nations known for their international leadership and commitment to freedom and democracy.
Unlike Libya, Syria has not gained priority in NATO’s agenda; unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, Syria has not managed to convince the U.S and its allies of the urgent need of foreign intervention. Unlike before, the United Nations protocols and conventionalisms regarding armed intervention are being followed and respected, and unilateralism seems to fade away in the long resolution drafts and agreements.
Why has no one taken leadership in the matter and launched an armed intervention in Syria? The lack of interest in the country is not the answer. On the contrary, it is the existence of major strategic interests (that are by nature divided and confrontational) in the region that are the main reason why superpowers such as the U.S, China and Russia remain still. Because they all know each other’s strength and capabilities, none of the superpowers, especially the 5 permanent members of the Security Council, is willing to take a more direct action in Syria. With China, Russia and Iran on al-Assad’s side, the United States will think twice before moving a piece in the Middle Eastern chessboard. Furthermore, Russia, China and Iran are also aware of the American interests and its potential, as well as Israel’s, and therefore have been limiting their support to the regime to financial aid and weapons supply. The possibility of the eruption of a transnational conflict as a result of any of these actors’ direct intervention in Syria is enough reason for any of them to remain marginalized on the issue.
But aside from the possibility of an expensive and complex armed intervention in Syria, U.N members have demonstrated that they are reluctant and lazy in projects related to providing aid and relief to the Syrian population. As the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says: “It is evident that the humanitarian budgets of traditional donors are severely constrained”. The U.N reports that only 20% of the $1.5 billion requested in December for relief efforts and aid has been collected. Furthermore, the U.N has failed in its efforts to negotiate with Syria; even former Secretary General Kofi Annan resigned his mission of settling a peace plan, frustrated by al-Assad’s unwillingness to negotiate and respect agreements.
This situation not only reflects disengagement in international issues by some nations, but a series of changes in the way the world works. The tolerance of the atrocities and chaos in Syria shows that the world order is tending towards a dynamic in which conflictive interests and goals lead to a zero sum game between powerful actors. Unilateralism is losing its viability for some countries, such as the U.S, as a result of this shift towards a multipolar dynamic and the emergence of strong and defiant actors. The case also confirms that the world is in a profound economic crisis. Traditional sponsors, such as Europe and the U.S, do not have the resources to spend on this kind of project anymore. But bottom line, what lies beneath these events is the fact that, despite the speeches and the conferences, the resolutions and the commitments, humanitarian issues still don’t play a determinant role in the international community’s priorities.
Unfortunately, 1 million refugees is not a figure powerful enough to encourage political willingness or action. The conflict that started in 2011 still remains unattended by the international community, whose members have not found the strength in the numbers nor the images to deploy resources, troops or military action, and are, unfortunately, unlikely to do so in the following months.