Logo Wide

Has the United Nations Helped Resolve the Syrian Conflict? 

The UN’s dream for political transition in Syria has turned into a nightmare, writes Burhan Ghalyoun for Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
Has the United Nations Helped Resolve the Syrian Conflict? 

From making peace to managing war

After nearly 10 years [of war], Syrians feel, and we all feel, that we have been deceived. We also feel that we have failed ourselves when we thought that a political solution was a viable option, an option that has reached a dead end. 

Instead of the international initiative sparing us more casualties and material losses, as we had all hoped, the political peace process turned out to be a trap. The regime, with its Russian and Iranian allies, succeeded in tipping the power balance in their favor, before turning the tables when it comes to both the United Nations and the international community.

While tens of thousands of young Syrians abandoned everything and took up arms to liberate their homeland from tyranny and wore out their nerves as they waited for weapons or ammunition that never came, the unlimited support (soldiers and weapons) flowed to the regime forces from Tehran and Moscow; support that was used to destroy hospitals, bakeries, popular markets, buildings, and empty cities of their residents. 

The regime gave the auxiliary forces of extremist movements — Salafism, nationalism, and sectarianism, including the Islamic State (ISIS), to which the government of Nouri al-Maliki gave access to the coffers of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq — money and modern American weapons. Faced with the reluctance of friendly countries to provide arms to the Free Syrian Army factions and the widespread intervention of Iranian militias and the Russian army, it became increasingly difficult to preserve the land that was liberated over the first year. 

As a result, no political solutions were achieved, the war did not end, its disastrous effects were not eliminated, or the suffering of Syrians diminished. Assad remains determined to keep fighting, while the international community prides itself on his success in reducing the pace at which the fighting is taking place. The true meaning of this success is the deterioration of any possible political solution, the settlement of the military conflict with the spread of militias, the continuation of the intersecting wars of origin and proxy, and the fall into the same schism that led to the destruction of the state in Afghanistan and Somalia, in many other countries before that, and, today, in more than one country in the Middle East.

The dream that the UN might achieve a political transition for Syrians has turned into a nightmare, and the opposition lost the last remains of independence and credibility it had left, in addition to its fighters — whose morale and deep sense of responsibility were shattered by internal conflicts and lack of political leadership and who had to turn into soldiers ready to claim loyalty to anyone who would guarantee their livelihood and survival. 

When Annan refused to be a false witness

Kofi Annan, six months before the end of his assignment, realized the impossibility of his mission. He did not hesitate to submit his resignation, stating, as the newspapers reported, “I did not receive all the support that the mission required […]. There are divisions within the international community, which has complicated my duties.” Washington stated that Annan’s resignation was due to Russia and China’s refusal to support the decisions targeting Bashar al-Assad, and the Assad regime’s refusal to stop criminal attacks against its own people. 

Simply and clearly, Annan, the first-ever Special Envoy to Syria, submitted his resignation because he refused to be a false witness. Annan’s resignation, as well as the failure of his successor, Lakhdar Brahimi, did not bring about any noteworthy reaction from the Secretary-General, who expressed his concern, which became a subject of discontent among the Syrians back then.

There has not been any review of the organization’s modus operandi nor its approach to the issue of negotiations, deemed moot. 

The new Secretary-General, António Guterres, appointed Staffan de Mistura as a third envoy. Guterres was envoy for four years (2014-2018) and did not manage to obtain the slightest concession from the regime, despite his close ties to Moscow and his clear show of complicity with the Assad regime. 

Despite the failure of the three envoys to release as little as one detainee from Assad’s prisons, eight years after the start of the so-called political solution process, the Secretary-General appointed a fourth envoy, Geir Pedersen, without any review of the existing approach or the adopted path. It took Pedersen two years to form the parody that is the Constitutional Committee, to which the entire Syrian settlement file was referred, after the discussion of thorny issues was halted — such as releasing detainees, stopping ongoing violations, forming a transitional governing body, transitional justice, reconstruction, and combating terrorism. 

A revolution is needed to manage international relations

Some of the countries that have turned a blind eye to the Syrian issue may think that Syria, at the end of the day, is not a high-priority issue, for Syria is, after all, a small and poor country that has been marching to the beat of its own drum for decades, and that there is no point in saving it nor is there real danger in letting it drown in its own blood and ruin. This is what the former US Ambassador, Robert Ford, wrote in his latest articles, admitting that “Syria has lost,” and that it is game over. 

I am not one of those to ascribe to conspiracy theories, as many Syrians have come to do nowadays. I do, however, believe that keeping silent about mistakes, covering up crimes, and colluding with forces could potentially be more destructive to trust, international relations, and the world order than any local or global conspiracy. 

All the UN did in recent years in Syria — with all due respect to Ban Ki-moon and Guterres — was nothing more than helping the Syrian regime, its Iranian and Russian allies, and many other mercenaries to cover up the pursuit and sharing of interests and influence, at the detriment of the Syrian peoples.

The challenge, in fact, is greater than we think, as the demand for the intervention of the UN to limit the increasing violation of the law in weak states that have lost their sovereignty, continues to grow. 

Also, there are those calling, in more than one Arab country, for an international trusteeship whereby the UN would appoint a sovereign to manage the country — which is threatened with disintegration, devastation, and famine, due to the corruption of its power-hungry elites. Unfortunately, however, these requests for international humanitarian and political intervention are on the rise at a time when the UN has been, now more than ever, losing its influencing capacity and initiative-taking capabilities. 


This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

Helpful keywords