Reason can silence the drums of war

2013-10-01 10:00

The crisis in Syria will stand out as one of the watershed moments for the international peace and security architecture.

This is ostensibly because the UN Security Council has yet again failed the world in resolving one of the most intractable conflicts of our time.

It is tempting to look at the conflict in Syria in simplistic terms: that of a dictatorial regime killing its own people. It is clearly much more complex, as all conflicts in the Middle East normally are.

While the Syrian government forces, with the support of Hezbollah, have made military advances in winning back large swaths of the country, this is by no means an indication the war is coming to an end, hence all role players and their sponsors have admitted there can be no military solution to the stalemate.

While President Bashar al-Assad has indicated his government’s willingness to negotiate, the rebels have sadly refused.

To this end, General Salim ­Idris of the Free Syrian Army last week made it clear there will be no cease-fire and they will not negotiate with government.

The UN Security Council has unsurprisingly been paralysed, in part because it suffers from the Libya hangover, which entrenched divisions and mistrust among the five permanent members (P5), a paralysis that threatens the credibility and effectiveness of the multilateral system, without which the world will descend into mayhem.

In the wake of the attack on Libya in 2009, I said in response to criticism against South Africa’s denunciation of Nato bombings in Libya “that it is not South Africa’s ­credibility that is at stake, but the UN’s, which acts erratically and ­inconsistently on matters of world peace and security.

Africans, among others, will never forget the Rwandan genocide and the scandalously shameful manner in which Rwandans were abandoned and a million people were left to die despite the presence of a contingent of UN troops in the country.”

The UN’s history is chequered by examples where those countries with little or no strategic or vital ­national-interest value to members of the P5 do not feature as priorities or are simply ignored.

The result is countries such as Israel, which ­possesses and has used chemical weapons (white phosphorus) against Palestinian civilians in Gaza in 2009, enjoy the complete protection of the US in the Security Council.

Some countries can act with impunity.

While there are attempts to work out the details of disarming Syria of its chemical weapons, what of the chemical weapons in the hands of the Israeli government, which it has used in the recent past?

It is incumbent upon the international community to act consistently and demand the implementation of the Middle East nuclear-free zone and that all countries sign up to the UN Chemical Weapons Convention without delay. This is the only way to make the world a safer place, for big and small countries alike.

South Africa’s position on the Syrian conflict is commendable and consistent with its principled position that all conflicts should be resolved by peaceful means.

While our country’s voice might occasionally be drowned out by the drums of war beaten in other capitals such as Paris, London and Washington, DC, ours remains the voice of reason and peace that believes multilateralism is the only way to resolve international conflicts and that the UN, despite its obvious shortcomings, should be central to such efforts.

»?Magama is chairperson of the portfolio committee on international relations and cooperation

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