Disarming Syria

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Second World War general and then President of the United States, said: “I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it.”

Majority public opinion, at least in the UK and the USA, seems to be opposed to military intervention by the USA and its allies in Syria. David Cameron has lost a vote in the House of Commons as he sought endorsement for military strikes against the Syrian regime of President Assad. And Barack Obama is by no means assured of majority support in the US Congress for military action against Syria.

So instead we have a plan for the UN to take control of Syria’s chemical weapons and then put them beyond use. This will not be an easy task in a country where a brutal civil war is raging. It will probably require cooperation from all sides involved in the conflict. But however difficult and dangerous this course of action may be, it surely presents a much more hopeful scenario than punitive military strikes against Assad and his forces. Such military action would only aggravate the conflict which threatens to destabilize the entire region anyway. If one is serious about wanting to stop a war, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go and join in. Retaliation only invites further retaliation.

In any case, so far as I can tell from the comfort of a London flat, it isn’t at all clear who was responsible for the use of chemical weapons in last month’s horrific attack on civilians in a suburb of Damascus. So nothing should be done to punish anyone until it is clear who the culprit is. And before we start punishing people, we need to take all possible steps to bring the bloodshed to an end.

The following steps seem to me to be necessary:

v  Agree and implement a plan for the UN to take control of and destroy all stockpiles of chemical weapons in Syria;

v  Enforce an embargo on the supply of weapons to all sides in the Syrian conflict;

v  Persuade all those engaged in the conflict to enter into negotiations and agree a ceasefire as a matter of urgency.

None of this will be easy. But what seems impossible today may become possible tomorrow and may then eventually become reality. Who would have thought that Russia and the USA could agree on a concerted response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria? It surely helped that there has been a groundswell of public opinion against military intervention. Let us do all we can to build on that. When Syrian chemical weapons have been destroyed, the UN could turn its attention to weapons of mass destruction, nuclear as well as chemical, in other countries, such as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, India, Israel, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and the USA. This will require a great deal of cooperation between governments which do not really trust each other. So there is a need for all sorts of steps to build trust between nations and governments. Let us, the people, keep up the pressure on our governments to pursue peace and abandon futile attempts to fight war with warfare.

Dwight D. Eisenhower also said: “This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

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