What if the Syrian army/government committed further atrocities like Houla and Mazraat every week for the next…..year? The UN Charter has a Responsibility to Protect clause, but it is being infamously ignored. The impasse will only be broken when Russia and China (and Russia is far the more important party here) are prepared to lift their veto in the Security Council, and the issue hinges on exactly what are the conditions they require for this and precisely what kind of action they are then willing to sanction. That alone, and there is no other route, would open the way to military intervention, not led by the West but by Turkey, and not all-out military intervention for its own sake but only to enforce the Kofi Annan peace plan.
Frankly the Russians have a case for their extreme reluctance to sanction intervention. They finally agreed to do so over Libya, and then found to their consternation and anger that the West deliberately misinterpreted the wording of the Security Council mandate in order to achieve regime change. While the West regarded the Libyan operation as a great success, the Russians ruefully drew the conclusion ‘Never again’.
Overcoming the Russians’ understandable resentment and bitterness at feeling tricked is not going to be easy, but it is not impossible. The Russian peace envoy to the Middle East has just now said that the Annan peace plan can be adjusted. That should now be the focus for Nato diplomacy, and it if leads to the recognition of a mutual Nato-Russian role in a new world order, so much the better.
It’s not hard to see the bottom-line conditions for Russian adherence to a UN plan. They have no instinctive attachment to the Assad dynasty, but they do have interests in Syria – not merely their main Mediterranean naval port at Latakia and arms and intelligence tie-ups, but also the geo-strategic interest in not letting the West use these Arab Spring uprisings as the pretext to pull the seccessor government into the Western camp.
Provided these conditions are met, the Russians may well be willing to ease out the Assad administration and assure protections to the Druse, Christian and Alawite minorities, so long as Syria’s basic position in the Middle East configuration is not disturbed and Russia has an equal partnership with the West in any post-Assad settlement. And there are two other positive drivers going for such a solution – Annan’s good relations with all the parties and the Arab League’s request to submit the Syrian imbroglio to the Security Council under the UN’ chapter VII as a threat to world paeac and security.