Monday, November 17, 2014
What to do about Syria? What is the most truly ethical stance?
Is it possible to know what the truly ethical foreign policy stance towards the current conflict in Syria is? Perhaps not in practice but I believe states should at least attempt to abide by idealist values, however unrealistic and unachievable this may be in reality. The obstacles to a truly ethical foreign policy are that the political world is highly unpredictable as people are not predictable. Whether or not western states should intervene, to what extent and by what means is hotly contested in all western countries and unlike economic policy, the different positions on Syria by western actors cannot easily be placed on the left/right wing spectrum.
I will now elaborate on what I mean by this. As war and the political world is unpredictable, states and political leaders like Barack Obama will have looked at previous conflicts in order to predict the most likely outcome of each action he could take as commander in chief of the world's largest military and leader of the global hegemon. One example is the Lebanon civil war which ran from 1975-1990. With its circumstances and actors similar to Syria, another Middle Eastern country, Obama could be confident that this war may last for around the same amount of time, despite western intervention. Each side, Assad and the Syrian Rebels, simply had too much to lose in order to stop fighting, making a ceasefire highly unlikely.
Obama would also have been aware of the Iraq War, which started in 2003 and resulted in half a million innocent Iraqis dying as a result of the US intervention, and a country that has turned into a failed state despite the US ploughing billions of dollars into it in order to transform it into a democracy. Isis, an Islamic terrorist group have taken over parts of Iraq and the US has again had to intervene with air strikes against the terrorists, despite only withdrawing troops a few years ago and President Bush in 2003 stating, “Mission accomplished.”
Like how easy it was to oust Saddam Hussain, it would be relatively easy given the US’s power and military strength to defeat Assad. But the failure of the US to install a stable liberal democracy would play on Obama’s mind with regards to Syria. Quite simply, if you did not grow up in the region, and do not specialize in this area, no amount of research, debate and information can make you understand the situation in its entirety.
The US originally supported the Syrian opposition unofficially, supplying arms and resources, but has since stopped this after some members of the Syrian rebels were exposed as being Islamic extremists, who later went on to form Isis. The US has made the same mistake before, backing the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. Members of the Mujahedeen, like Osama Bin Laden, later went on to form Al Qaeda, and launch the single largest terrorist attack on American soil. Therefore it is not always true that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, however tempting this may be.
Some would argue that by gaining UN security council approval to intervene, this gives western states more of an ethical stance on the conflict. However I see problems with this. Firstly the UNSC is made up of 5 permanent members, two of which, democracies France and the UK, only have around 60 million people living in their countries. On the other hand, the world’s largest democracy, India with over a billion people living there, does not have a permanent position on the UNSC. Furthermore, there is no country from the Middle East, or Africa on the UNSC, and yet many of the decisions made on the council concern conflicts occurring in these regions.
The countries most likely to know what is the right decision to take on Syria are those that are in the Arab League. And those people who are acting with purely altruistic and humanitarian reasons, and not in the name of profit eg arms manufacturers, can most be trusted.
Quite simply, the only thing ethical stance that most people agree is the right action to take is to support Syrian refugees with housing, clothing, food and other supplies, letting them into western countries and supporting them to start a new life away from the conflict. There are also 11 million people in need of humanitarian aid in Syria, although it is harder to help those. Regarding military intervention it’s just not clear what the most ethical stance is. Only history can tell us that. And even that will be up for debate in the future.
Western powers have intervened in conflicts in the middle east for over a hundred years ago, and not one of these has been a success. They should support whatever the Arab League desires, and also keep on pressing the countries that are supplying arms and other resources to both sides of the conflict in order to do their best to bring an end to this horrific war.
Below are several petitions from people and groups whose motives are altruistic and humanitarian and are meant to end the war in Syria:-
Click here to pressure the US & Iran to meet to find a diplomatic path to bring forward a ceasefire in Syria
Click here to pressure the European Union to impose an arms embargo and asset freezes, sanctions and travel bans on the Syrian regime
Click here for an Oxfam petition to pressure world leaders to form peace talks on Syria