Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Responsibility to protect

I have to say that I am struggling on so many levels with the situation in Syria and on even more with those around me who are accusing our nation of 'war-mongering' and bemoaning the fact that we're merely 'looking for a fight' and here's why:

I can remember the travesty of international justice and the frustrations of UN Forces' commanders when they were rendered impotent in the humanitarian role of protecting civilians in Both Rwanda and Bosnia (take a look at 'Hotel Rwanda' and think back to the Balkan conflict to see what I mean).

I struggle to come to terms with a world where Saddam Hussein managed to deal so effectively with the Shia population that was the Marsh Arabs through draining of their homelands and the use of chemical weapons (and that means that 'yes' he did have weapons of mass destruction at some stage) against those of Kurdish descent (how many people even know of Halabja which remembers the twenty-fifth anniversary of it's bombing with chemical weapons this year?).

In Psalm 82 (v.3-4) we find this:

'Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.'

What we have before us is something that today we call the 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) and it is something that supports the intent of the passage above and, existing closely in tune with the heartbeat of God, resonates with all descent people (theist and non-theist).

It is not rabble-rousing, nor jingoistic or vote-catching. What it brings into focus is three elements that need to be considered and these are presented to us in the images of those dead or dying we see broadcast onto our television screens from Syria.

There are three considerations:

It is the duty of each and every state to protect their people from genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity; and the duty of the international community to assist in the prevention of these acts.

Where evidence exists that such atrocities are occurring because the state is unable, or unwilling, to act to stop them then once all peaceful means have been exhausted other, more militarily robust means, are all that remain.

In a nutshell, this is the bottom line:

If a nation cannot, or will not, protect it's own people then the international community must act to ensure that this protection is afforded and when all else fails it is acceptable for them to do so by use of military force.

This is the situation before us with regard to Syria and should the UN Security Council decide that this is the place that has been reached by the current crisis (and it is a crisis) then there are many steps before we find ourselves with a 'boots on the ground' scenario, but this is the ultimate destination should more peaceful ways fail.

It would help the situation greatly to have the Russians become a little more obviously engaged in what is right rather than the protection of their ally (and sales market) in defending Syria. The steps open would be trade embargos (which would hit Russia), sanctions (such as those which have stopped North Korea getting ski lifts - now that's a thought to savour isn't it?) and other restrictions and political strategies.

It's not a swift route, and it never should be, because military action is a last resort rather than a kneejerk (after all whilst politicians start wars it's the armed forces who stop them and pay dearly for treaties written in their blood).

So we need to stop responding with our own kneejerk responses and stop the 'warmongering' cries - because R2P is a balanced, measured and slow process which has nothing to do with regime changes (a mistake that we saw perhaps with Iraq) or dogma, doctrine or national interest (and I mean other nations, not the nation where the problems are occurring). What R2P demands is a strong constitution and a desire to make real the words, 'NEVER AGAIN' true for every nation across the globe - for genocide and the use of weapons of mass destruction must be opposed globally, always and everywhere without let, hindrance, bias or favour.

So tomorrow when the British government discuss the option regarding Syria, use your heads and think; your knees and pray and remember that those who would have peace must train armies and be willing to use them - as the last resort.

Sadly civil wars see ruling powers act against civilian populations using the might of the government machinery (and military might) and the danger is that in supporting the citizens we might just be supporting the self-same terrorists who will turn on us later (remember Russian and Mujahedin and who armed them only to have the same arms turned on our troops by the same people now?).

We need to read, test the news reports and understand the situations and, when what we see on our televisions occurs, act in a right and proper way as nations and as the members of those nations who are part of the international community.

Pray for peace -work for peace- be ready to engage the wicked if (or perhaps when) this is seen to have failed.

Simples or what?



UKViewer said...

My issue with the government and the US going it alone is the legality of it all.

We acknowledge that a mandate from the UN Security Council, but believe that we have a 'moral imperative' to act alone, without UN Authority, despite the doubt of such actions in international law.

What I find so distasteful is the drum beating and seeming readiness of those in power to rush into another war, because that is what it will be, without any consideration of it's wider impact on individual Syrians (so called pin point targeting in Iraq demonstrated the fallacy of such a thing - thousands of innocents killed) nor it's impact across the region. and even wider. Who are we protecting, the Syrian People (unlikely) or David Cameron's ego?

Russia and Iran will not stand idly by - while our war ships might stand off 150 miles from Syria, they won't be immune from hostile action from Iran (extremely likely) and Russia (possibly). So, the idea that we can sanitize our involvement and justify doing everything remotely is at best mistaken at worst, foolishness.

In the case of Iraq, the coalition went ahead without a UN Mandate, and now, years later, Tony Blair stands at risk of arrest for War Crimes if he sets foot in an unfriendly power.

And, just what is Tony Blair doing. He is supposed to be the Middle East peace mediator. Currently he is swanning around on Millionaires yachts in the Med, while mouthing platitudes in support of some form of military action. Some peace mediator that?

I understand that we have a responsibility to protect people against WMD, but the correct route is via the legal one of the United Nations, not the US, GB and perhaps France, going it alone on a wish and a prayer that we might get away with it. Only worldwide condemnation of President Assad and his correct regime and the cessation of support from Iran and Russia might get him to think again - because, like Gaddafi in Libya, he has nowhere else to Go. It's the reality for him win or die.

Getting in is easy, extricating ourselves without a regional escalation seems to me to be much more problematic.

I don't have any solutions other than robust diplomacy, sanctions and removal of all trade with Syria, economic destruction, even though the people will suffer might be the only legal sanction we have.

Colin Haynes said...

As usual Vic, a measured concise and legally accurate assessment of the rights and obligations of a responsible member of the international community. I am saddened when I hear many of the responses to this issue - I found myself almost shouting at some of the callers to the Jeremy Vine Show! In the end, it would be better if Russia used her position and influence in this situation. In fact, that is what I pray for most earnestly, in addition to prayers for comfort to the oppressed.

Those who say it is nothing to do with us, miss the key point in all of this. We are all members of the same family. And when one hurts, we all should feel the pain.