Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy appointed in February 2012 to solve the Syrian crisis, repeated on Wednesday (11 July) that the international community, failing to act with one voice, was less powerful than ever in its attempts to address ongoing violence. Echoing comments made in Le Monde on Friday (6 July), Annan explained that to date, the crisis was a result of the “failure” of the international community to cooperate decisively. He would know - he is mediating presently on behalf of two multilateral 'communities', and as a former UN Secretary-General was de facto leader of the international community across two mandates.
While in 2011 two international crises led to prompt – though at times thought to be impulsive – interventions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, key international players have shown in 2012 a lack of eagerness to send troops into conflict. The intervention in Libya was backed by UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011), with NATO helping to implement Operation Unified Protector from March until October of last year. Long-reigning dictator Muammar Gaddafi was replaced by a transitional, then elected, government. In Côte d’Ivoire, after contested elections between serving President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in November 2010, the mandate of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) was reaffirmed by UN Secuity Council Resolution 1975 (2011). French Licorne troops then assisted UNOCI forces in arresting Gbagbo.
This year, both Mali and Syria are undergoing major crises. Yet, despite repeated calls for action and intervention, concrete progress has still not been achieved.
In Syria, the government and its supporters are fighting several opposition movements. Over the last 16 months, both the status and number of victims have risen exponentially, reaching 10,000 deaths according to conservative estimates. Annan was appointed to help broker a consensus between all groups, and presented a 'Six-Point Plan' to all parties. Despite some agreeing to abide by it, the linked ceasefire was soon broken. An 'Action Group on Syria' has since met to discuss implementation of Annan’s negotiated plan. Participants even disagree, however, on whom should take part. On 30 June, while this Action Group was meeting in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, criticized Iran’s absence. A week later Annan himself, while in Teheran, said “Iran can play a positive role in Syria”, if it were to sit at the negotiating table. Iran's presence is opposed, however, by the UK and US.
In addition to the Action Group, the 'Friends of Syria' are also involved in seeking a resolution to the crisis. Modelled on the Friends of Libya, the group met on 6 July in Paris. There again, no consensus was reached as to whom should participate. Most notably, Annan did not attend. Earlier the same week (2 July), the Syrian opposition met in Egypt under the aegis of the Arab League. Its Secretary General, Nabil El-Araby, criticized the Annan plan - although Annan is mandated by the Arab League - as well as other proposed solutions, for their inadequacy.
One of the main points of disagreement is the future of Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad. While some argue he should remain in power - for instance Russia and Iran - others do not see any role for Al-Assad in the context of a peaceful transition. The US, France and UK are all active in their campaigning on this issue - notably on Twitter, where officials mention daily how Syria’s future cannot feature Al-Assad.
Another bone of contention is the inclusion of sanctions or threats of military intervention against the ruling Syrian regime. Last Tuesday (10 July), Russia suggested a draft resolution that would only consider an extension of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) of 90 days. The French Ambassador Gerard Araud asserted that the resolution had “no teeth”, suggesting it would be ineffective on the ground. And indeed, no later than Friday (13 July), UNSMIS’ head, General Robert Mood, confirmed in a press statement that “UNSMIS operations continue to be suspended due to the unacceptable level of violence on the ground”. Extending the mission while it is unable to perform its mandate would be useless.
In March 2012, Mali was the location of a coup against ruling President Amadou Toumani Touré. Captain Amadou Sanogo led the mutineers to overthrow what he called an “incompetent regime”. “Incompetent” because of its incapacity to handle a Tuareg rebellion in the North of the country – ever more fragile since the demise of Gaddafi and the flow of arms from neighboring Libya. A few days after the army overthrew the president, the North of the country fell into the hands of a coalition of Tuareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA - “Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad”), Ansar Dine (Islamic fighters) and some allies from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Since their swift conquest of Northern Mali, MNLA fighters have opposed their former allies from Ansar Dine. Sources on the ground report that Islamic fighters are now the only group exerting control over the territory. In short, much like Somalia, Northern Mali is becoming another safe haven for Al Qaeda in Africa. The destruction of UNESCO-protected Muslim shrines in Timbuktu suggested many parallels with the Taliban's demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. Mining around the city of Gao provides another example of the radicalization of the effective rulers of the North.
In the meantime, Bamako’s transitional government headed by Dioncounda Traoré and established under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is struggling to escape the military’s desire to maintain control. ECOWAS has increased its calls for the UN to support an intervention in Mali to ensure the return to civilian government, on the one hand, and limit the influence of pro-Al Qaeda groups in the region on the other. At a meeting held in Ouagadougou on 8 July, ECOWAS heads of states urged Traoré – then not present – to request an intervention for his country, while also calling on the International Criminal Court “to proceed with necessary investigations to identify those responsible for war crimes and to take the necessary action against them.” ECOWAS’ statement has been strongly supported by the African Union (AU). While at a conference to decide on the new AU chair, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, the AU Peace and Security Council chair, said on 14 July that the conference "condemn[ed] the aim of the terrorist groups to turn northern Mali into a sanctuary and a coordination centre for terrorist groups on the continent such as AQIM, MUJAO, Boko Haram and al-Shebab”.
Despite repeated calls for action, the last resolution of the UN Security Council in relation to Mali only condemns – refusing to endorse armed intervention. Resolution 2056 (2012) – unanimously adopted – reads "attacks against buildings dedicated to religion or historic monuments can constitute violations of international law”. In a press statement, the council “expressed full support to the coordinated efforts of ECOWAS, the African Union and the transitional authorities of Mali to face the country’s multiple challenges, which, besides the coup in the capital, Bamako, and fighting in the north, also included threats from Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb”. However, it did not respond to the concerns of the regional body, demanding instead “an immediate cessation of hostilities by armed groups along with full access for humanitarian aid” while acknowledging "the cooperation of neighbouring States on humanitarian issues”. The only request the council made was for the UN Secretary-General “to provide support to an ongoing mediation effort”. In an exchange between Patrick Ventrell, from the US Department of State, and the press on 12 July, the former did not answer when asked about intervention several times, until conceding that “decisions haven’t been made and I don’t want to get ahead of the process”.
In contrast to the Syrian case, disagreement as to how to solve the crisis is not at the root of inaction. Instead, inaction has been caused by a clear lack of willingness to provide resources for intervention. Much like in Somalia, one can expect AU or ECOWAS troops would intervene in Mali on behalf of the UN.
Nevertheless, unlike the inaction that has seemed to characterize international fora, bilateral statements suggest some willingness for more decisive involvement. On 3 July, for instance, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stated that France's “determination is total so as to prevent groups such as AQIM establishing havens of international terrorism in Northern Mali, as they are threatening peace and prosperity in the whole region, as well as our own security”. He was seconded in his calls a few days later by the International Organisation of Francophonie, whose head Abdou Diouf explained that the stakes were high in the Malian crisis not only for Mali, but for the whole world: "it is a global danger".
In both cases, it seems a waiting game is being set up even as the clocks tick.
Intervention is not the key to these crises. Precedents from the past decade have shown us that changing a regime can only be successful with a bottom up approach. Financial and diplomatic interference – not direct military intervention – however, can also cause great damage. In such contexts, mediation becomes irrelevant. In both Mali and Syria, the international community appears to be demonstrating a kind of half-hearted interference, where solving these crises is not a priority.
(Photo of Kofi Annan © Julie Mandoyan for The Global Journal)
(Map © DR)