After months of “intense diplomacy”, the United Nations’ Security Council has failed to develop a position on the crisis in Syria. The failure came when Russia and China vetoed a resolution that urged Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to end violence against the civilian population or face fresh sanctions.
Paradoxically, the double veto could facilitate stronger action by Western democracies against the Assad regime.
No longer obliged to take into account Russian and Chinese “sensibilities”, the Western powers and their regional allies, notably Turkey, could quickly impose a set of economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Syrian regime. The European Union and Turkey account for more than 80 per cent of Syria’s foreign trade. Turkey is by far the biggest foreign direct investor in Syria. The EU is also the principal importer of Syrian oil, the revenue of which is directly controlled by Assad and his entourage.
At the same time, high level diplomatic contacts with European powers, notably France, helped Assad enhance his prestige at home.
With the Security Council scripting itself out of the Syrian issue, an alliance of Western powers plus Arab allies and Turkey could develop a common strategy to a crisis that is threatening regional peace and security.
Acting outside the Security Council is not without precedents. Western interventions in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and, more recently, Cote d’Ivoire, all took place without the council’s involvement. In Kosovo, the prospect of a Russian veto forced the Western democracies to act alone.
What is urgently needed is the creation of a number of safe havens for Syrians fleeing the daily massacres. Turkey is already hosting some 8000 Syrian refugees. In Jordan, the number is put at over 6000 and in Lebanon at around 5000. Jordan has established a camp at Matraq while Turkey is building two close to the Syrian border. Iraq has not yet established any camp although it has received more than 10,000 Syrian refugees.