David Cameron the UK prime minister was dealt a political blow on Thursday night when he lost the Syria vote in the House of Commons. Whilst that must have been a huge disappointment for Cameron it was hugely demonstrative as to what good governance should look like and indeed a big day for democracy.
But this was neither about good governance nor democracy in the United Kingdom but instead in a far away land that most of us in the UK only ever see through the eyes of the international media. According to that media, the citizens of Syria are dying and are desperate for the international community to intervene with a view to resolving this whole situation.
To say that the situation in Syria is complex is an understatement. It has tested international relations in ways that could not have been conceived by most. We are after all used to the good guys going into such situations and taking out the bad guys- Gaddafi Saddam, Osama bin Laden etc
A good friend of mine and I had a heated discussion yesterday about this whole situation and no doubt some of you have done so with family members, colleagues and or friends.
This is an bridged version of that conversation
The conversation started with a simple question from me that went like this
There is such a thing as International Law, but whose job is it to enforce that law in the absence of an International government?
This seemingly simple question is central to the Syria situation as it gives rise to several issues for consideration
Sovereignty : The government of Syria has authority within a geographical region that is internationally recognised as Syria and has a right to defend that territory and has vowed to do so should the international community invade. The difficulty with this, is that whatever the international community might think, Syria would be justified on grounds of sovereignty.
We have to consider too, that the extent to which Syria would go to defend itself is an unknown quantity and there is every possibility that intervention would make matters worse for the very citizens the international community would be trying to save. Moreover, whilst it is agreed that, chemical weapons have been used we do not know definitively by whom.
This led us to another question.
Should the international community simply standby and watch whilst the government of Syria kills thousands of its people? Surely the international community has a moral duty to set aside issues of sovereignty and defend innocent citizens against their government. Indeed and we if looked hard enough, we would find several world treaties to support intervention.
So why are UK, Iranian, Russian and Chinese legislators amongst others reluctant to go to the aid of the citizens of the Syria?
Interests: as far as my friend and I can work out, interests of the international community are playing a big role on questions whether to get involved in Syria or not.
Russia and Iran are said to have financial and other interests in Syria and as such they will do whatever it takes to protect what they are calling their national interests in Syria. For Russia this has meant using its veto at the UN Security Council
The USA: how does it maintain its world position as a world power if it cannot see through a threat it made about RED LINES?
Will going into Syria mean that the USA is fighting the Syrian government alongside Al-Qaeda and other such radical political groups? Surely that is not in America’s interest given its history with respect to the war on terror
Our discussion turned to the interests of tax payers here in the UK. Whilst most tax payers are happy to see the UK government spend their taxes on humanitarian aid some question the wisdom of spending their taxes on a war in a far away land whilst their wages have gone down in real terms and are struggling to make ends meet. This is a valid point, when UK citizens look back at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
David Cameron has often argued for the stopping of problems in these far away lands at sources before “they arrive on our door step” > Question is do the interests of the nation as he perceives them line up with the nation’s perspective?
Back to the question of international laws and how to enforce them, we concluded that, international laws are impacted by national interests of the international community. We found ourselves agreeing with realists in as far their assertion that those countries with superior hard power often win the day in these circumstances.
Where does this leave the international community and the citizens of Syria in particular? The answer to this question will unfold over the coming days, weeks months, or even years!
But my friend and I pondered yet another aspect of international relations.
The international structure has evolved from bi-polar during the cold war, unipolar with America leading the world to what we call a multilateral structure with no apparent leader in international relations, but instead several stakeholders, including international institutions. But has this multilateral world order led to indecision and as such the situation in Syria?
At this stage in our conversation we concluded that we were going round in circles as it appears that lining up the ducks on the Syria matter is a delicate balance and if the international community gets it wrong the consequences are scary!
Please join the conversation and share your views