[Viewpoint] Do something about Syria

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[Viewpoint] Do something about Syria

The ongoing Syrian civil war has resulted in more than 21,000 deaths since March 2011. Many Syrians feel frustrated as they are working to realize democratization but the international community has not provided the kind of support it did for Libya.

At the time of the Libyan crisis, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which designated a no-fly zone and mobilized all necessary means to protect civilians. Western countries, including NATO members, intervened militarily and helped topple Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime.

In the resolution, the concept of “protection of civilian population,” which was adopted unanimously by 191 members in the 60th General Assembly in September 2005, was applied for the first time. It allows the international community to get involved when a government of a certain country commits genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

It is notable that when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 and NATO began airstrikes the next day that the actual death toll was a few hundred. At present, more than 20 times that number of deaths have been accounted for, and more casualties are expected. However, the international community is virtually ignoring it.

Western countries point out that China and Russia are the biggest obstacles for any international intervention in the Syrian crisis. Of course, the two countries have vetoed the UN resolution a number of times since last year. Russia’s only naval base in the Middle East is located in Tartus, Syria. Russia exports more than $4 billion worth of weapons and invests over $1.5 billion in Syria. Russia and China refuse to give up their interests in Syria, which is one of the only two political and military allies in the Middle East along with Iran.

However, the Western world, in fact, does not have much interest in Syria, with its oil reserves a mere 5 percent of Libya’s. Therefore, it is reluctant to intervene or take military action against President Bashar al-Assad.

Western countries are just sitting with their arms crossed partly because of Israel’s security. The regime change of Syria is a double-edged sword. The authoritarian regime may be replaced by a liberal and democratic government. But then, friction may arise in its relationship with Israel, just as the Islamists have seized power after President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was ousted.

Israel occupies the Golan Heights in southern Syria. If a new government is formed through a liberal and fair election, it is likely to demand restitution of the Golan Heights as defined in UN Security Council Resolution 242 from 1967 and Resolution 338 from 1973. Israel does not want that to happen, and the situation would be difficult for the entire international community.

The United States is not likely to intervene in a foreign crisis because of the presidential election in November. The alliance between Syria and Iran, which is in confrontation with the West, also makes it possible for the al-Assad regime to resort to brinkmanship.

So, conflict of interests in the international community and the complicated Middle Eastern order surrounding Israel and Iran delay resolution of the Syrian crisis.

And the cost has to be paid by Syrian civilians, including women and children. The Egyptian and Tunisian militaries remained neutral in their countries’ revolutions, and the armed forces were divided in Libya and Yemen. However, the Syrian military’s support for the government helps the crisis continue. It is hard to expect an internal resolution without external intervention.

The international community’s aggressive intervention is needed to end the bloodbath in Syria. There is no other way to stop the al-Assad regime’s mass killings. It does not have to be a military strike, but the international community needs to take action to stop the disaster and save Syria.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a professor at the Graduate School of International and Regional Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

by Seo Jeong-min
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