The following article was published by UNA-UK Chair, Lord Wood of Anfield on 7 April 2017
The appalling chemical attack on 4 April was the most recent in a long line of atrocity crimes committed by the Syrian Government. As UNA-UK has consistently argued, it is long overdue that the international community comes together to take firmer action to bring these crimes to an end.
However, it is entirely unclear how air strikes will make civilians any safer. Unilateral action without broad international backing through the UN, without a clear strategy for safeguarding civilians, and through military escalation risks further deepening and exacerbating an already protracted and horrific conflict, leaving civilians at greater, not lesser, risk of atrocities.
It is understandable that frustration at the UN Security Council’s inaction, and the disgraceful use of veto by permanent members, has led to many parties wishing to circumvent UN processes. But, as Lakhdar Brahimi said in his editorial for our recent magazine, the UN remains “the indispensable organisation where serious problems of peace and security are concerned”. By circumventing it we reduce both legitimacy and effectiveness, as a course of action that does not have the broad support of regional powers and the international community, channelled through UN systems and processes, can have little chance of success in leading to a more stable Syria.
At some point, Assad must answer for his crimes in court; right now, preventing ongoing atrocities is a far more urgent priority. A negotiated end to hostilities, supported by firm UN-backed concerted action by the international community to push all parties towards peace, remains the course of action with the highest probability of success.
In the meantime, if President Trump wishes to help the victims of Assad’s atrocities, he could pledge to play a leading role in resettling the survivors.