Geopolitics

Remember Bosnia? Intervening In Syria Must Be More Than Just Punishment

Syria is more reminiscent of the Balkan wars in the 1990s than Iraq or Afghanistan. It's imperative for the West to act to force Assad's hand, not just to slap his wrist.

Milosevic, Assad
Milosevic, Assad
Wolfgang Ischinger

-OpEd-

MUNICH — After 10,000 deaths, several months of hesitation and restraint in the West, sanctions and diplomatic offensives, the despot goes one step too far. It means the international community can no longer look the other way. The calculation that the costs of doing nothing are lower than the costs of intervention reveals itself to have been flat wrong.

Suddenly everything moves quickly: just days after a massacre, there is rhetoric and a path toward military action is cleared. A couple of weeks later, NATO intervenes, brings the despot back into line and even forces him to accept a peace agreement.

I’m not talking about Syrian President Bashir al-Assad and his government’s likely use of chemical weapons. No, the event I'm recalling is what happened in Srebrenica in July 1995, when 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were massacred at the hands of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Now too it seems that the use of chemical weapons have, in Syria’s case, also made the calls for intervention louder. Though a peace agreement, like the one negotiated for Bosnia in November 1995, is still far away for Syria.

Forcing peace

Opponents of intervention in Syria have often invoked the sobering experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are of course correct that international community should exercise extreme caution when considering whether military intervention should be used.

But we should not forget the lessons of the 1990s and of the war in the Balkans. Under certain circumstances it is necessary to use military means to get to the negotiating table and force peace. The Syrian conflict is more reminiscent of the situations in Bosnia or Kosovo than Iraq or Afghanistan.

Still, there are indeed greater risks in Syria than there were in the Balkans in the 1990s. Opponents of Syrian intervention have warned that the conflict could spread, and now, thanks to our inaction, the conflict is indeed spreading quickly. Syria is a failed state with chemical weapons in the heart of the world’s least stable region, and it has become a deployment hub for jihadists from all over the world.

A regional proxy war, with its religious and political components, would have consequences far from Syria’s borders — and would likely have consequences for the future of all of its neighbors, for the Iranian nuclear conflict and for the revolutions in the Middle East. More than 100,000 people have died, more than one million children have fled, and now weapons of mass destruction are being used: That is a crime of pure evil.

The argument that the war in Syria has to bleed itself dry has proved to be both morally irresponsible and absolutely wrong politically.

Getting serious

The Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian war in 1995 was possible because Milosevic and the Bosnian Serbs were faced with a new reality and suddenly had an interest in a negotiated agreement. The Croats had started winning ground and the NATO operation “Deliberate Force” had demonstrated that the West was serious. In other words, despite its weaknesses, the agreement in Dayton gave Bosnia-Herzegovina a way to find peace, and it was only possible because of the serious threat and limited use of military weapons.

This is also valid in Syria. From a position of strength, where he can at least repel attacks, the Assad regime is unlikely to be ready to make the necessary concessions. As long as Assad is convinced that he can improve his position or even win the whole war outright, he will prefer to keep fighting. The international community has to undermine this calculation if it wants to find a political solution.

The test of whether an intervention promises success starts with defining its goals and measures to be used. Public remarks in the past couple of days have suggested that limited airstrikes would be the likely response. In that case, the goal would be to make it clear that a red line actually means something.

Such a limited attack is unlikely to really change the power dynamics in Syria that have been preventing meaningful negotiation. The ideal situation, in which Assad is so weakened that the parties involved in the conflict come to Geneva to look each other in the eye and negotiate a solution is, unfortunately, still unlikely.

Any intervention that is not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council would be offensive to some, especially Russia. Without Moscow there will be no negotiated agreement in Syria. So any intervention has to be accompanied by high-level diplomatic efforts with and around Russia, in which the West makes it clear that it will be prepared to make distasteful compromises, such as considering a future for a part of the Assad regime.

The West should also be able to say that it is ready for (almost) anything, to find common ground with Russia. Refusing to talk is sending the wrong message. It has never been more important for Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama to find a compromise between themselves. Otherwise, we will have the worst possible outcome: The war in Syria escalates further, and the trust between Russia and the West is destroyed.

Military strikes that are nothing more than punishment for the use of chemical weapons would also be meaningless. The strikes should have clearly defined political objectives, and in the best-case scenario, they should be the first step toward a peace agreement. In 1993, then-U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher characterized Bosnia as “a problem from hell,” unsolvable because the parties to the conflict hated each other so much. Two years later, after Srebrenica and the international intervention that followed, a peace agreement was signed. Though Dayton was patently unsatisfying, there has been no more shooting since. That is the ultimate lesson from Bosnia for our leaders today.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Olympic torch is lit at the Archaeological site of Olympia in Greece.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Asham!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.

[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.

• Poland/EU tensions: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused the EU of "blackmail" and said the European Union is overstepping its powers, in a heated debate with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the rule of law. The escalation comes in the wake of a controversial ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that puts national laws over EU principles.

• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.

• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.

• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease

• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.


💬  LEXICON

Jashn-e Riwaaz

Indian retailer Fabindia's naming its new collection Jashn-e Riwaaz, an Urdu term meaning "celebration of tradition," has been met with severe backlash and calls for boycott from right-wing Hindu groups. They are accusing the brand of false appropriation by promoting a collection of clothes designed for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but giving it a name in Urdu, a language spoken by many Muslims.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.

🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.

🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.

💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I'm worried for my Afghan sisters.

— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more yay or yeesh about the artist currently known as Ye? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ