Friday, August 30, 2013

Syria. If not bombs, what?

Parliament has just decided, rightly, that military action would not be helpful in Syria.

So now what do we do? 

It is crucial to involve Russia in negotiations and diplomacy. As they have their only Mediterranean naval port in Syria and are supplying Assad with weapons, their engagement is central. 
On TV in Belarus Putin is saying he'll help Syria in any armed conflict with the West but that story has not received the coverage it deserves. 

However, the international community cannot just stand by and wring its hands. There is humanitarian work to be done, and also legal work.

War crimes have been and are  being committed by someone. Gas has been used by one side or the other. The persons who used it must be identified, and tried in a court of law.  Important international laws are being broken. If justice is not applied, the law is weakened. The laws against chemical weapons have great significance because they were one of the first laws passed, nearly a century ago, against weapons of mass destruction. The law against WMD must be upheld, and also the United Nations have a responsibility to protect civilians. 

So what can the UN do, short of taking military action, as it is legally entitled to do under Responsibility to Protect?

The UN could do this:

1 Try Assad and his subordinates for war crimes and/or human rights abuses in absentia. 
If found guilty, they are sentenced to time  in prison.

2 Inform Assad that if he abdicates, and his subordinates that if they defect, the sentence will be commuted to a comfortable exile.

3 Jam his TV and radio broadcasts. He maintains his hold on his supporters with these broadcasts.

4 Apply Targeted Sanctions to Assad and his inner circle:

· Financial sanctions (freezing of funds and other financial assets, ban on transactions, investment restrictions)
· Trade restrictions on particular goods (e.g. arms, diamonds, oil, lumber) or services
· Travel restrictions on Assad and his regime (unless they are fleeing the country)
· Diplomatic constraints
· Cultural and sports restrictions
· Air traffic restrictions

Other possible measures include:
· Restrictions on visa issues to members of the Government, unless for purposes of diplomacy or defection.
· Assistance given to democratic opposition groups who support principles of good governance.
· Tightened border controls, in readiness for sanctions on arms related materials.
· Prohibition of specified financial transactions
· Freezing of accounts of government officials
· Ban on imports of all lethal goods
· ban on imports of dual purpose technology
· ban on imports of chemical weapon precursors
· ban on imports of biotechnology
· ban on imports of nuclear technology
· ban on imports of wines and spirits
· ban on imports of tobacco, cars, oil & oil products, and luxury items. (These are often used by oppressive regimes to buy loyalty)

The sanctions should be delivered in a progressive way, and promptly reduced in response to any improvement.

The above approach is in accordance with well-established principles of behavioural psychology, which shows that behaviour can successfully be modified in a consistent and impartial framework of punishments and rewards.

For those with worse records, or in the case of governments who fail to reform despite being under milder sanctions, opposition groups will be supported with progressively increasing financial and logistical help, provided that they support the principles of good governance.

Finally, if the regime still refuses to improve, or if it is engaging in ethnic cleansing or genocide, these opposition parties could be entrusted and empowered with responsibility for imports of, and fair distribution of, necessities like food and medicines. This would give them practice in the arts of co-operation (with each other) and administration, enabling them to prepare for government.
If necessary, the distribution efforts will be protected by UN forces.

There we have it. Four measures that can be set in place to hamstring Assad. There are many other things that could be done as well. Put them forward in the comment slot below and if they're reasonable I'll add them here.

Of course, there will be counter arguments. There always will be.

Some will say it's too late for that kind of talky-talky stuff.
This is not the time for words, but action.
This is time for the smack of hand on button.
This is the time to show Assad we are really mad.

Others on the other hand will argue that we should do absolutely nothing, apart from offer humanitarian help, and wait until the civil war burns itself out. Intervention is Always Bad.

The crucifixion of political thought on the cross tree of these arguments, if  that is indeed what they are, is the reason why humanity is in this position, up a highly polluted creek without a paddle.

If we are to give peace a chance, we have got to have some improved thinking at the level of international politics and international law.

We have to start somewhere; so it might as well be here.

We have to start some time. Might as well be now.

This post has been updated 2/9/13

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