Where fools rush in

2013-09-03 00:00

THE UK MPs saved the world from another Iraq.

The vote by the British parliament against its government’s proposal of military action against the Syrian government is bad news for those who are in a rush to act militarily outside a United Nations mandate.

It is a victory for those who call for patience to allow UN weapons’ inspectors time to report on their examination of the scene of the chemical attacks. It is a victory for international law against the law of the jungle; the primacy of right over the rule of might.

British Prime Minister David Cameron took a gamble by subjecting his proposed action to parliamentary scrutiny. The British and United States governments had, by early last week, concluded on the basis of intelligence in their possession (which they refused to share with anyone, not even the United Nations for verification), that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was guilty.

Although the Western media had reported that about 100 people were affected by the reported incident, the two governments increased the claim to 1 400 casualties. This number was taken without question from the Syrian opposition, which includes Al-Qaeda elements. Again, the new “truths” are not verified or shared with the public.

Effectively, this means the two countries have usurped the role that legally belongs to the UN and its fractious Security Council. Given their military power and their current disregard of the UN, by the end of last week it seemed that nothing was going to stop their military campaign in Syria, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) enlisted for support.

A huge campaign to prepare the public around the world for military action intensified by mid-week. The gist of the messaging was that the chemical attack was part of the Assad regime’s barbaric pattern. His regime is accused of having used chemical weapons 15 times in the past few months and if it is not stopped, it will use them again. So, it was said, the military intervention would be a humanitarian one, designed to stop Assad from killing his own people. This is exactly the same language that was used in preparation for the invasion of Iraq and for Nato’s regime-change project in Libya.

According to Canadian scholar Max Forte, humanitarian militarism — the bombing of other parts of the world in the name of saving lives — is designed to maintain Western hegemony.

“Clearly,” he said, “we are more like animal keepers. Bombing for us is really just an animal-management technology, and our relationship with the world remains a zoological one.”

In this context, the UN is useful only if it enables this agenda and is ignored if it does not. The UK put before the UN Security Council a draft resolution blaming the Assad government for violence and the use of chemicals in attacks. It ordered the council to use “all means necessary” to stop this. Some suspect that because it was predictable that China and Russia would oppose a resolution similar to the Libya one, Britain was merely ticking the box to show that the council was obstructive. The resolution was blocked by China and Russia.

The next tick was for parliamentary permission when the British parliament was asked to debate and decide on military action in principle, rather than a specific plan of action. This would be used as a framework for action later. The majority voted against the motion.

This forced the U.S.’s Barack Obama to moderate his plan and he announced a call for a limited strike, as anti-war and peace protests gained momentum in the U.S.

Now, the U.S. government is also seeking Congress support, which may not materialise after the British vote. If the U.S. Congress approves, the U.S. will go on a unilateralist action, backed by its allies, of course. But military humanitarianism works best when it includes the big three of the Western world — Britain, France and the U.S.

This forced a change in attitude, and consideration of public opinion is good for the UN as the custodian of international co-operation on all global problems, negotiated solutions and multilateralism. If its weapons’ inspectors provide evidence of chemical attacks and who is responsible, the world can then agree on the best course of action. A united world action is better than Western action outside the UN in a post-imperial world.

Developing countries, which constitute the majority of states in the UN system, and countries such as Germany, which has also rejected Western unilateral action, need to work together with the big three to force Syrians to agree to a comprehensive solution to their drawn-out crisis. South Africa should use its relations with both sides to push for a united and responsible action on Syria within the UN ambit.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue.

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