Annan has just announced that he would not renew his mandate as the UN.-Arab League Joint Special Envoy for Syria after it expires on August 31, a decision that has stirred up quite some discussions in the international community. Why has Annan made this decision at this hour? Does it mean a breakup of the road toward political solution of the Syrian issue? How will the Syrian situation develop next? All these have caught the greatest concern from the general public of all countries in the world.
Just as it used to act in the past when a UN Security Council resolution on Syria was vetoed, the United States and its Western allies would immediately point its finger at Russia and China, blaming these two countries for rejecting action against the Bashar regime and subsequently getting Annan to make the decision. This blame, however, has been proved groundless by the unequivocal remarks by Annan himself: ‘The Syrian government would not yield a single inch, and the rebels have become growingly addicted to fighting. The international community, meanwhile, remained split in action,’ meaning that these are the key factors behind his decision to quit. Obviously, such a situation is not what Annan expected to come across half a year ago when he proudly accepted the glorious mandate. The question here, however, is why the situation has deteriorated to the extent as we see today?
Needless to say, the current situation in Syria has resulted from the failure of the Syrian government to come up with any reform plans to answer the political appeals of its opposition and alleviate its conflict with the general public. There is also no denying the fact, however, that it has been the intervention by some external forces that has fueled the exacerbation of the situation. The forces inside and outside Syria have both come to see a chance to satisfy their selfish desires through military means, as pointed out by Annan in his article published in the British newspaper Financial Times after he decided to quit. For this end, some countries have spared no efforts and money to support and arm the rebels and encourage them to seize power by force. At the same time when intensifying their sanctions and pressures against the Syrian government, the United States and its Western allies have turned a blind eye to the instigation and support of the Syrian anti-government forces by some countries to start up violence and bloodshed in their country, a tilting stand obviously blamable for the escalation of violent conflicts in Syria.
Many people have aired their concern that the road toward political solution of the Syrian issue would break off with Annan’s quit of his mandate. As a matter of fact, the United States already gave its warning not long ago when Russia and China vetoed a resolution proposed by some Western countries, claiming that it would no longer seek any diplomatic solution of the Syrian issue, blaming Russia and China for damaging the road for diplomatic solution.
‘Diplomatic solution’ is a demagogic phrase. It seems whoever comes up with this idea will secure a moral highland. Will anyone oppose a diplomatic solution, after all? In the dictionary of these Western countries, objection of their proposal means objection of diplomatic solution. Without getting to the real thing behind such Western opinion, some people have got to believe that it has been Russia and China that have gone wrong time and again.
Here we need to decide on one question first: what is the issue in Syria calling for diplomatic solution, to bring an end to violence or to bring about a change of power? Viewed from the 6-point proposal put forward by Annan after his appointment, it is only too obvious that the most urgent task is to bring about a ceasefire and to avoid an escalation of violence. From the very beginning, however, the Syrian rebels and their external supporters have taken overthrow of the Bashar regime as a precondition, maintaining that the downfall of the Bashar regime is the only way to stop violence. But Russia and China have believed otherwise. First of all, they have argued, a forced change of power does not comply with the spirit of the UN charter. Secondly, the Syrian government is still holding control of the state apparatus and its army still enjoys an advantage. Under such circumstances, instigation and equipment of the rebels to fight against their government will not provide any solution to existing problems. On the contrary, it will only result in an even graver humanitarian crisis, a belief that has been sufficiently proved by the continuous deterioration of the Syrian situation in recent months.
It is well-grounded to say, therefore, that the United States and some of Syria’s neighbors have never made any diplomatic efforts targeting at a ceasefire from the very beginning. On the contrary, they have been trying all means to retard such efforts and block execution of Annan’s plan. They have even gone so far as to arm the Syrian rebels and render them all kinds of material and opinion support, while imposing ever stiffer sanctions against the Syrian government. Many people may have believed that giving up diplomatic efforts would mean armed action by the United States against Syria. Such action by the United States is not mandated, however, by the actual situation at present. The current priority of the United States and its Western allies is to tackle the political and economic issues plaguing them at home. Also, they need time to search through the rebel forces that have come forth in all forms and that may have even been penetrated by extremists so as to pinpoint those that can truly represent the Syrian people.
The Syrian crisis has evolved from mass protests urging the government to launch political and social reforms. It might have been solved through peaceful initiation of a political course. Unfortunately, many elements have cropped up to complicate it, such as the contention for geo-political interests, the confrontation between religious sects, and the rivalry between big powers, developments that have actually driven both of the conflicting parties to a dead lane. It can be well predicted that new conflicts of even greater ferocity will surely break out in the weeks to come, a tragedy to weigh upon the whole world and to plague the innocent Syrian people in particular.
Li Weijian is executive director of the Foreign Policy Institute of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and an expert on Middle East and Africa Issues