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The Porcelain Peace

Barely a week after the feeble truce officially went into effect on Sept. 12, a U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed dozens of Syrian soldiers
By The News · 21 of September 2016 08:04:55
John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hold a press conference in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands at the conclusion of their press conference following their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland where they discussed the crisis in Syria September 9, 2016.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque, photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

From its very onset, it was far too fragile to endure.

The cautious ceasefire in and around Aleppo — an externally brokered cessation of hostilities ironed out in Geneva during the second weekend in September between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that would have been the first step in a more durable and lasting peace settlement for Syria — is already beginning to unravel.

Barely a week after the feeble truce officially went into effect on Sept. 12, a U.S.-led coalition airstrike on Saturday killed dozens of Syrian soldiers that they had mistakenly identified as Islamic State (I.S.) fighters, a United Nations convoy trying to provide food and medical assistance to civilians in Aleppo was bombed Monday (the jury is still out on who’s to blame for this one, since all sides are desperately trying to point the finger at someone else), and, that same day, the Syrian government (i.e., President Bashar al-Assad and his military henchmen) proclaimed it was washing its hands of the ceasefire proposal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had been the key tile in the domino row of negotiation of the truce, now seems either unable or unwilling to rein in his lackey Assad, and the entire cessation of hostilities treaty is rapidly disintegrating into the chaotic armed pandemonium that has been the status quo in Syria for the last five years.

All of this should come as no surprise to anyone who has seriously been following the ticklish truce progression.

In order for any cessation of hostilities to be viable, it must incorporate three key elements: 1) a clear definition of terms and delineation of applicable territory by the participating parties; 2) a means of enforcement of the agreement and subsequent penalties for violations; and, 3) a mutual trust and an expectation of goodwill by all involved.

Sadly, the Aleppo ceasefire plan had none of the above.

Desperate to sign some sort of a ceasefire accord that would favorably spotlight both their countries’ diplomatic statesmanship (and eager to exclude any land that might be occupied by their respective militia allies), the United States and Russia intentionally left the demarcation of the territories that would be included within the agreement ambiguous, which essentially meant that all parties could decide for themselves what areas were legitimate targets and what areas were off-limits.

As for the matter of enforcement, there was no provision for implementation.

That meant that all three nations (the United States, Russia and Syria) involved and any extraneous militias were expected to comply with the ceasefire based strictly on an honor system.

Had any semblance of honor existed in the first place among these diverse entities, the people of Aleppo would not today be scavenging for food and water and more than 250,000 Syrians would not have lost their lives in the past half-decade of armed hostilities.

That brings us to the issue of mutual trust, and at this point in time, there is precious little of that to go around in Syria.

The anarchy that is Syria is not going to be resolved through diplomatic means alone.

Foreign military intervention and a forcefully imposed peace process are indispensable, not only to reinstate law and order in Syria, but also to expel all externally financed militias and to quell the rise of extremist jihadist groups such as I.S. and al-Qaida.

There is little chance that the geographic demarcations of the country as prescribed by the 1916 Sykes-Picot accord will ultimately remain intact.

Assad, if he is to remain as president through his third term (ending in 2021), will have to accept a loss of sovereignty in at least some segments of the country, and he will have to answer for alleged crimes against his people.

Also, the Alawite-dominated government of Assad will have to address and acknowledge the rights and concerns of the Sunnis, Druzes, Ismailis, Kurds, Christians and other minorities in Syria, providing all religious and ethnic groups equal political representation.

All of this is a tall order to fill and none of it will come easy.

But a real, viable and potentially lasting peace in Syria is not going to be hammered out over a frantic weekend in Geneva by two would-be superpowers.

And it cannot ignore the essential elements of geographic demarcation, compliance enforcement and fundamental trust.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at therese.margolis@gmail.com.