Tuesday 24 May 2022 | 00:20 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 May 2022 | 00:20 | SYDNEY

Syria: Responsibility to express outrage


Rodger Shanahan


1 August 2011 13:33

The current round of deaths the Assad regime is inflicting upon the Syrian population should illustrate the hollowness of the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P).  While one could hardly disagree with the concept of R2P, the conditions necessary for its implementation exist so rarely as to make the concept practically unworkable. 

While polite company refers to the 'narrowness' of the applicability of R2P, less polite people may prefer to call it 'selectivity'. When Muammar Qadhafi threatened to move on Benghazi, Australia was at the head of the pack in calling for intervention based on the principle of R2P

With the recent offensive by the Syrian army into Hama (a city the same size as Benghazi) and other towns and cities, resulting in reportedly well over a hundred deaths, the Foreign Minister has rightly described the actions as abhorrent and totally unacceptable. He has called on the security forces to put aside their arms and for the Syrian Government to respect the rights of the Syrian people as well calling for UNSC condemnation and ICC action.

But nowhere has Australia mentioned R2P with regard to Syria, even though it was trotted out with monotonous regularity in the lead-up to the intervention in Libya. Yet if this address by the Foreign Minister is any guide, Syria meets the threshold for intervening on the basis of R2P. 

So why isn't Canberra (or anybody else) speaking about R2P intervention if civilians are getting killed on a regular basis by the Syrian military?

There is no stomach for militarily intervention in Syria. Arab states backing action against a loose cannon like Qadhafi is one thing. But against the Assad regime? And if the Arab world is not wedded to the idea of attacking Damascus then the countries that matter in the West will certainly not be rushing to implement R2P any time soon. Certainly not while NATO is involved in Afghanistan and Libya and the US still has commitments in Iraq.

Nor has the test case for R2P whet anybody's appetite for further intervention. Five months after R2P was invoked in the case of friendless and militarily weak Libya, the fighting there goes on. Syria is a much more complex ethnic, tribal, geostrategic and geographic operating environment than Libya. 

As the civilian death toll mounts in Syria, expect much outrage but little discussion about R2P, which is great in theory but doesn't stand up to much scrutiny in the real world.

Photo by Flickr user oliverlaumann.