Turkey: Risk worth taking for Syria safe zones
- 28 September 2012
- From the section Middle East
The UN's failure to agree a way to deal with the worsening civil war in Syria has dominated the diplomatic week at the General Assembly in New York.
The UN is only as strong as the collective will of the Security Council - and, on Syria, the five permanent members of the council are deeply divided.
The split is along Cold War lines - France, Britain and the United States want tough sanctions against the regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad, which they say should go. But their resolutions have been blocked by Russia and China.
The Russians argue that a sudden power vacuum at the top in Syria could make matters even worse for the population.
They also believe that they made a mistake allowing a UN resolution last year against the Gaddafi regime in Libya which the western powers interpreted as a charter for regime change.
Syria's neighbour, Turkey, is as exposed to the fallout from the war as any country.
It has absorbed 120,000 Syrian refugees, 90,000 of whom are in camps.
At his country's mission opposite the UN headquarters in New York, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called again for the establishment of safe zones for refugees in northern Syria - which would take a considerable military operation.
Mr Davutoglu would not be drawn on the fact that inserting a military force into Syria to establish a safe zone would be an act of war.
The risk, he said, was worth taking to get humanitarian access to the huge numbers of displaced people inside Syria.
Establishing the zone would, he said, also send a signal to Assad's regime to stop attacks that kill or wound civilians.
"If you don't taken certain measures or certain steps on time in the future you will be facing more risks. Unfortunately, since there was no clear message and decisive position of the international community at the early stages of the crisis, Syrian regime felt confident to do more and more attacks," he said.
"And if you do not take certain decisions today for the women, children escaping from these attacks, then we will be facing more risks in the future."
Failure 'like Bosnia'
The new envoy of the UN and the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, is about to set out for a diplomatic swing through the region.
He gave the UN Security Council a gloomy assessment this week. Afterwards, he told reporters that there was "no disagreement anywhere that the situation in Syria is extremely bad and getting worse, that it is a threat to the region and a threat to peace and security in the world".
Mr Brahimi said he hoped for a diplomatic opening soon, and his staff say he is working on a peace plan.
One document he likes, which could be part of the ideas he is said to be sharpening, is one of the rare moments of diplomatic agreement between the five permanent members of the Security Council, after a meeting in Geneva in June.
Without naming names, it condemns violence, calls for Syrian sovereignty to be upheld, and most importantly for a 'transitional governing authority" that could include members of the current government.
The document is a framework that is coherent and makes sense. The only problem then is for Mr Brahimi to get the regime and its enemies to stop trying to kill each other and then sit down to talk.
If he can, he will have scored a remarkable and unexpected diplomatic triumph.
The UN cannot afford another failure. But, without united political action from the Security Council, it is hard to see how Mr Brahimi will be able to do better than the man he replaced as envoy, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Turkey's foreign minister believes that the failure so far to get to grips with the war in Syria is already a "serious failure". He compared what is happening in Syria to the war in Bosnia 20 years ago.
"For three years such an inactivity in the 1990s in Bosnia resulted in 300,000 casualties, 100,000 rape cases against women, and a huge humanitarian tragedy. And the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon went to Bosnia this year and apologised because of that inactivity," Mr Davutoglu said.
"I'm afraid maybe after some years another UN secretary general may have to go to Syria to apologise because of this inactivity. The UN Security Council should provide the solution. It should agree on basic principles."
The UN has never had a magic formula for ending wars. The time for diplomacy often does not come until the sides in a war have exhausted themselves.
It could be that not enough blood has been spilt yet to force the regime and its enemies to talk.