Syria and non-military intervention / by Simmon Li

By all accounts, our adventure in Syria is succeeding. The regime is under heavy pressure from the UNGA to stop what it is doing, economic sanctions (our coercive intervention) seem to be playing a part in wrecking havoc, putting much pressure on the Syrian government to stop. However, I have a really big problem with what we are doing. For all the stock I put into the principle of R2P, what we are doing in Syria seems to me to be, in some regards, very irresponsible. On the one hand, people are being slaughtered by their government. This we can not deny. So we fumble around trying to figure out the best way to handle this situation. On the other hand, through economic sanctions, we enable an embryonic civil war with very troubling consequences. The issue here is, of course, the end game.

Let's be clear though, first of all. Syria has failed in its own responsibility to protect (pillar 1), and the international community is now fumbling around inching towards pillar 3's coercive intervention. What happened to pillar 2? We had the AU monitoring mission, and now a proposed AU-UN monitoring and stabilization mission. But the issue again is one that I've touched on before. How is it that we can trust a belligerent state to sincerely accept help from pillar 2's mandate? Doesn't this undermine the whole principle of sovereignty as responsibility? We are treating an irresponsible state as sovereign, effectively giving it a life line to do what it wants. The tension is almost insurmountable at the moment because there is almost no middle ground between pillar 1 and pillar 3 where the state in question is a belligerent. In a related way, the question of whether R2P must result in regime change is pertinent.

Is it possible to control the paths by which endgame happens? Libya is proving to be a case that is moving out of control in slow motion. While what we did there, arguably, was prevent a lopsided war, it has become clear that we made some less than fantastic decisions in handling Libya. The question with R2P is whether or not coercive intervention must end in a regime change. Inevitably, the resolution of the question is: yes. On the moral level, how is it possible for a regime to remain in place, unchanged even somewhat, if systemic violence was perpetrated by the very machine of state? It becomes morally untenable for R2P to suspend without at the very least enabling the next step. A relapse into violence would simply require more R2P intervention (military or non-military), and leaving a regime in place, unchanged, would likely lead to higher chances of relapse.

In some ways, R2P can be said to be a violent reaction to the resistance of democratization in weaker states. Perhaps that is harsh, but the question of endgame comes up over and over again. What is R2P's goal in the context of politics and states? For me, "protecting populations" is the obvious answer. But upon interrogation, what does it really yield? If a government is committing terror upon its population, the first important thing is to stop it. This is where R2P is useful. But what next? I don't necessarily see the brokering or arranging of a new or reformed government as a part of R2P, but it naturally leads there. After all, what else can you do to a government that commits terror on its own citizens? It may be fair to say that R2P is concerned with the mid-term, but there seems to be no focus on the endgame. In a perfect scenario, R2P would be invoked to stop violence against citizens, and then what? The tendency now is to extend the R2P "mandate" to encompass this next step. I have tried very hard to avoid using the term "transition," but it seems here that it is inevitable. Can a government that has committed systemic violence against its citizens possible remain in power (keep in mind, this is the ideal case where some party externally has stopped hostilities)? Is R2P the first step in a reprise of Cold War-era transitology? The Cold War-era transitology was concerned heavily about building of a functioning government institution after the violence has stopped. How, then, are we to understand R2P in the context of a linear model of transitology? Does R2P fit as a first step? Are the methods of tansitology helpful in the endgame that R2P seems to be a step towards?