No easy fix to a particularly savage war - Failing Syria

WITH SYRIA, a coalition of more than 100 humanitarian and human rights organisations, says that 83% of the night-time lights in Syria that were visible from space just four years ago have gone out.

This frightening, back-to-the-Dark-Ages metaphor is chillingly illustrative, though it does not compare to the scathing report from humanitarian agencies and the UN, which condemns international powers for not delivering on UN Security Council resolutions designed to end the conflict in that country and protect its civilians.

The Failing Syria report is deeply critical of the world’s most powerful societies for not having the will to apply UN resolutions on the delivery of humanitarian aid to the victims of the war. It is tragic that noble and entirely appropriate resolutions that should save lives and offer some prospect of peace cannot have the impact intended but the reality, the unavoidable realpolitik, is somewhat more challenging and a lot more complex.

It is hard to see how resolutions on delivering food aid to Syrian battlegrounds can be realised without boots on the ground, without sending some mother’s son, already serving in some army not yet embroiled in the conflict, to stand between the warring factions and the 4.8m desperate Syrians living in areas described by the UN as “hard to reach”. This figure represents an increase of 1m since 2013. The figures detailing the conflict are ever-more terrible and apparently intractable in the short-term at least.

Last year was the deadliest year of the conflict, with at least 76,000 Syrians killed. Aid access has not improved but 5.6m children are in need of aid, a 31% increase since 2013. The humanitarian response has decreased compared to needs. In 2013, 71% of the funds needed to support civilians inside Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries were provided. In 2014, this fell to 57%.

Despite these awful figures, it would take a particularly brave — and a very powerful — politician to order troops into Syria to support aid operations, especially as that would inevitable mean contact with Isis and their barbarisms. Such Crusader conflict might even make IS seem even more attractive to Islam’s fascist zealots. Such a move would mean a very significant loss of life in a civil war that shows no sign of coming to an end. Intervention would be unlikely at the best of times but at the moment when resurgent Russian nationalism and Ukraine’s European ambitions may provoke a renewed Cold War, and when defence budgets are being cut almost universally, it seems impossible.

That hardly means though that the unfortunate millions caught up in the conflict, the millions living in desolate refugee camps, Syria’s neighbours almost overrun by the displaced, the thousands of North Africans trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe’s promised land each week or those now living in a medieval nightmare under Isis rule can be abandoned. Is it just possible that this is the kind of operation that European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had in mind when he proposed an EU army? Or maybe those who scoffed at his proposal have a better idea?

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