Resources and Experience in the United Nations

By Joe Armenta
Contributing Writer

Syria is a mess. Since Syrian protesters began demonstrating in March, the United Nations has estimated that more than 5,000 people have died due to the conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its opponents. The reported killings have been accompanied by routine beatings, bombings, unlawful arrests, allegations of torture, military defections and amateur videos of soldiers firing on unarmed protestors. But despite these circumstances, little is actually known about what is occurring in Syria due to the government’s successful attempts to bar international media sources from entering the country.

Something that has emerged in the recent months is the opposition’s yearning for assistance from the international community. In an interview with Al-jazeera, Hussein al-Harbi, a member of the opposition, said, “I am wondering why the international community and, let’s say, the international world, doesn’t interfere to stop the killing. [The protesters] are people… flesh and blood. Those people have feelings and have families.”

What international intervention should look like is a highly debatable subject, especially amongst spectators to the crisis. Whereas the United Nations is the institution typically responsible for dealing with these types of issues, some are skeptical of its ability to control the ambitions of Western nations. This isn’t an outlandish concern—especially when considering NATO’s involvement in the Libyan revolution. The UN’s initial resolution dealing with the crisis in Libya was passed with the sole intent of stopping Gaddafi from using his air force against rebel fighters and civilians. This goal was accomplished within days after NATO launched a fierce air campaign over Libyan airways. However, even with international media sources reporting that Gaddafi’s air force was “destroyed” as of March 23, NATO continued to launch bombing campaigns against Gaddafi loyalists in an attempt to institute regime change. They were successful, and while the consequences of their invasion were not inadmissible, it was a clear indication of the power that the West wields in the UN.

But, there are few alternatives that have the resources necessary to subdue the violence in Syria. Some have pointed to the Arab League, which has recently been forced to become involved in the situation, to have the potential to end the violence. In November, the AL enacted sanctions against the Syrian government in hopes of applying enough economic and diplomatic pressure to quell the government’s violent repression. However, the killings continued. Later, in December, the AL launched a fact-finding mission in hopes of gaining information and of putting an end to the violence. The mission was a failure. Arab League monitors prove to be highly unprepared for the tasks they were supposed to be performing. The opposition was quick to criticize the mission, and they released frantic videos of monitors, some armed solely with cell phone cameras, being paraded around the streets by military forces. Meanwhile, the violence has intensified, and on January 28, the AL announced that it had suspended its mission due to “critical deterioration of the situation,” as reported by Secretary General Nabil el-Arabi.

What these attempts by the Arab League have revealed is that it is a completely inadequate force that is unable to bring an end to the violence. The situation in Syria is far too complex. Assad’s regime is equipped with a strong military that has been entrenched with the state since the Ba’ath takeover in the 70s. Meanwhile, not much is known about the opposition itself, but what is clear is that it is becoming increasingly more militarized as the conflict intensifies. Simultaneously, the broader international community is standing idly by as the Arab League remains incompetent.

It is time for the United Nations to take a decisive stance on the issue. The UN may have difficulty controlling some of its founding members, but this should not stop it from performing one of their primary functions: ensuring fundamental human rights. Assad’s regime is killing its own citizens and a civil war is emerging as a result of the international community’s indolence. In addition, the UN has vested interests in Syria that have been largely ignored by the media. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the UN has been responsible for ensuring that basic human rights are guaranteed for thousands of Iraqis taking refuge in Syria. The UN has an obligation to protect these people from getting hit in the crossfire. Furthermore, the UN has an institutional set-up that is responsible for dealing with these types of issues.

This isn’t going to be an easy battle in the chambers of the Security Council. It must first handle internal conflicts, as Syria is a close ally with Russia—one of the council’s permanent members. It will then face difficult decisions. Can a peaceful Syria exist with Assad in power? If not, should the UN take initiative to remove him? And if so, should it be accomplished through economic or direct military force?

While answers to these questions remain uncertain, the violence must be stopped. Concerns that the West’s influence will make things worse should not halt attempts by the UN to intervene. Unlike the Arab League, it has the resources and experience to put an end to the conflict. While some say that UN intervention will fuel anti-Western sentiment, they fail to acknowledge that the protesters have been calling for the international community to get involved since demonstrations began almost a year ago. In a situation as intense and complicated as Syria, the UN should lead the charge and take quick and decisive measures in order to put an end to the conflict.

Cultural Connection with the Arab League

By Jodi Sanger-Weaver
Staff Writer

The Middle East has dealt with imperialist agendas since the end of World War One. This past year the world witnessed what has been termed the Arab Spring as many citizens have risen up against their corrupt governments and demanded sovereignty. They want governments to be accountable to the people of the state, not to a distant superpower that has its own interests at heart. This is why I believe the crisis in Syria should be dealt with foremost by the Arab League. For too long, these people have struggled against foreign intervention, and many still have hostile feelings towards these aggressors. The Arab League understands this sensitivity and the desires of the people better than any other organization and thus should be given the lead in helping to solve the crisis in Syria.

Some argue that the Arab League is not experienced enough in order to deal with the problems in Syria. Instead, they argue that the United Nations has more experience and should be obligated to intervene. First, the Arab League is indeed a regional organization with less experience, whereas the United Nations is a global one. Certainly the United Nations has had more cases with which it gained experience in dealing with internal state conflicts. However, to say that this experience has allowed them to be successful in maintaining peace is a stretch. After the catastrophic UN peace keeping attempt in Rwanda just eight years ago, the UN was forced to reevaluate their tactics, but the question of its effectiveness in keeping or causing peace is still dubious. Many of the recent UN missions have lasted years before bloodshed stopped, such as in Sudan and the Congo. While the mission of peacekeeping is undeniably noble, I question whether UN tactics are sustainable. Can the UN really fix the problems that have caused the bloodshed to begin with? I believe that in many cases, these problems need to be dealt with internally because more often than not they are only truly understood by the people whose realities they have molded, and this certainly applies to Syria.

Since its inception in 1945, the Arab League has dealt mostly with economic issues and backing Arab states’ independence struggles against their respective foreign imperial powers. It has not been given the chance to truly develop its capacity like the United Nations has; however, it is clear that the issue of Syria certainly falls within the realm of issues it has pledged to manage. The Arab League member states pledge to “safeguard their independence and sovereignty, and to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries.” This they should be allowed to do. This is not to say the UN experience in this arena could not be helpful to the Arab League. However, the Arab League mission includes the safeguarding of independence and sovereignty, and any UN intervention not specifically sought by the Arab League would certainly be unwelcome and could be seen as yet another form of foreign meddling in Arab matters. Moreover, if the UN was to lead the mission in Syria and help to impose a new government, whether one the UN sees as a more just government or not, they run the risk of creating doubt in the government by the citizens that have been weary of the motives behind foreign intervention for generations. Essentially, a UN led mission runs the risk of being seen as illegitimate through the eyes of the Arab people for the sole reason that the intervention is foreign. If the UN was to get involved, it should be because the Arab League asked for its help. It should not take over the mission but rather allow the Arab League to guide them.

Syrians deserve a voice in their government, and most importantly the bloodshed needs to stop. In tackling this crisis, the Arab League best understands the cultural sensitivities and implications of intervention, as well as the desires of the Syrian people. It is thus the instrument best suited to help Syria resolve this crisis and rebuild the country into something wholly Syrian and truly sovereign.

Courtesy of freeedomania


  1. […] pilot to defect and monitored his activity until the jet landed safely in Jordan."  As scholars have noted, the country's strong military has been "entrenched with the state since the Ba’ath […]


  2. […] pilot to defect and monitored his activity until the jet landed safely in Jordan."  As scholars have noted, the country's strong military has been "entrenched with the state since the Ba’ath […]


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