Tag Archives: Oxfam

Escalating the war: the West’s responsibility for the slaughter in Syria

Escalating the war: the West’s responsibility for the slaughter in Syria
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
3 January 2018

Despite the carnage and intense anger created by the US-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, many prominent commentators and politicians have repeatedly pushed for the West to step up its intervention in Syria.

In 2012 Emile Hokayem, a Senior Fellow for Middle East Security at the Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote an article titled Arm Syrian Rebels To Enable Political Solution. Three years later human rights activist Peter Tatchell was campaigning for what he calls “Syrian democratic forces” to be given anti-aircraft missiles, and Kurdish forces to be supplied with “heavy artillery, anti-tank & anti-aircraft missiles against ISIS.” More recently, Charles Lister and Dominic Nelson from the Middle East Institute thinktank in Washington, DC argued the US needs to continue to support its proxies in Syria “as a durable source of pressure on the regime in Damascus.”

The problem with this argument is that the academic literature shows “in general, external support for rebels almost always makes wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve”, as Professor Marc Lynch, Director of the Project on Middle East Political Science at George Washington University, explained in 2014. Max Abrahms, Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University, concurs, recently co-authoring an article in the Los Angeles Times which also noted “the conflict literature makes clear that external support for the opposition tends to exacerbate and extend civil wars”.

For example, Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham and William Reed from the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland examined the data from 218 cases of civil war extending from 1990 to 2011. Their conclusion? “We find that conflicts in which the rebel group received external support from a third party lasted significantly longer than civil wars that did not involve external support.”

And it’s not just academics in their ivory towers. In 2013, there was a flurry of warnings about arming the rebels in Syria. “More arms would only mean more deaths and destruction”, noted then United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Two former NATO Secretary-Generals wrote an article in the New York Times arguing “Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality”. Many NGOs were equally opposed. “Providing more weapons will mean prolonged fighting and more civilian deaths”, noted Oxfam America, while the women’s rights organisation MADRE stated “funnelling more weapons to the opposition” would “further diminish chances of a democratic outcome for Syria.”

The US ignored the warnings from senior academics, analysts and organisations with years of experience of dealing with conflicts, and instead worked with the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply an “extraordinary amount of arms” to the rebels in Syria, according to then US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2016.

And as predicted by the two former heads of NATO above, this increase in support provoked the Syrian government and their Russian and Iranian allies to escalate their own involvement in the conflict. This is because, as Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in February 2016, “A central story of the Syrian conflict has been the cycle of escalations and counter-escalations in the continued pursuit of victory by both sides”.

For instance, in an October 2015 article titled Did US Weapons Supplied To Syrian Rebels Draw Russia Into The Conflict? the Washington Post noted that TOW anti-tank missiles delivered to the rebels by the US and its allies  were “so successful… in driving rebel gains in northwestern Syria that rebels call the missile the ‘Assad Tamer’.” The report goes on to quote Oubai Shahbandar, a Dubai-based consultant who previously worked with the Syrian opposition: “A primary driving factor in Russia’s calculus [to militarily intervene in September 2015] was the realization that the Assad regime was militarily weakening and in danger of losing territory in northwestern Syria. The TOWs played an outsize role in that”.

Confirming the veracity of the earlier warnings about the West arming the rebels, last year Professor Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, explained “America has prolonged the civil war and has abetted the terrible destruction”, and “destabilised the region”. The death and destruction has been enormous. In 2016 United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura estimated 400,000 people had been killed in the conflict, while the UN reports more than half of all Syrians have been fled their homes – an estimated 5 million have left the country and more than 6 million are internally displaced.

The US and UK governments, then, consciously chose to escalate the conflict in Syria, knowing it would likely increase the level of violence and the number of civilian and combatant deaths, as well as making a peaceful resolution more unlikely.

It’s an unpalatable conclusion that jars with the liberal idea of the West’s ‘basic benevolence’, though one that is backed up by the evidence and elementary logic. And it is a conclusion you will be hard pressed to find in any other British national newspaper.

Is the UK helping to fuel the Syrian conflict? Interview with Oxfam’s Andy Baker

Is the UK helping to fuel the Syrian conflict? Interview with Oxfam’s Andy Baker
by Ian Sinclair

Open Democracy
19 August 2016

According to news reports, the fighting in Syria, especially in and around the city of Aleppo, has escalated in recent weeks. Can you summarise the scale and breadth of the humanitarian crisis in Syria today?

The crisis in Syria is well into the sixth year now. Civilians are increasingly the victim of bombings, attacks, and displacement by all warring parties which are primarily and directly responsible for the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. Powerful countries such as Russia, the US, France and the UK are also fuelling the conflict to varying degrees whether through inadequate diplomatic pressure, political and military support to their allies, or direct military action. The recent fighting around Aleppo is the latest example of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children caught in the cross-fire, threatened by death from land and air, and facing severe shortages in food and medicine that could lead to even more deaths. Overall in Syria, humanitarian needs are increasing every day, while access to civilians, especially in besieged areas, has not improved beyond one-off deliveries here and there, tied to ongoing political negotiations.
 
Speaking to Sky News in March 2016 about the Syrian war, you
said “we can’t only lay the blame at the feet of the Russians”, noting that Britain – and other nations – have also “fuelled the fire” of the conflict. Can you explain how Britain has done this?

To start, it must be noted that the parties to the conflict – the Government of Syria, armed opposition groups and UN designated terrorist organizations – bear the primary responsibility for the suffering in Syria. Powerful countries such as Russia and the US are also fuelling the conflict, including via direct military action.  To a lesser degree, the UK and France are also fuelling the conflict whether through inadequate diplomatic pressure or their more limited military actions.

Some governments, including permanent members of the UN Security Council, have become belligerents in the civil war. For example, while Russia’s role in talks on Syria is key and it must play an important role in the resolution of the crisis, the reality on the ground is that the increased Russian military involvement and intervention since September 2015 marks a clear escalation of conflict, with devastating results for civilians. Russia and the US, countries with power and the main instigators of the recent provisional ceasefire, spend a combined $8 billion dollars on the war within Syria in 2015, dwarfing the $1.5 billion the US contributes in aid, with Russia contributing just $9 million towards humanitarian assistance.

Some countries like the UK have been top donors to aid efforts that are reaching Syrian refugees, and when and where possible civilians inside Syria. Their support to vulnerable populations that rely on humanitarian aid outstrips most other countries, and they have played a significant role in mobilising more money from other nations, but they also need to deploy more efforts towards an end to the conflict which is leading to more vulnerability and needs every day.

The UK and other members of the UN Security Council have a responsibility to ensure civilians are protected and peace and security maintained. Resolutions of the Security Council have been consistently flouted and ignored by their allies on the ground. Britain is also part of the US led coalition against ISIS that has ongoing military operations in Syria. This has done little, if anything, to deal with either civilian suffering or the root causes of the conflict.
 
Britain’s part responsibility for the ongoing conflict in Syria will be news to most people. From your vantage point as the head of Oxfam’s Syria response team, why do you think there is such a large disconnect between Britain’s Syrian policy and the public’s understanding of it?

There’s been a lot of focus in the UK on the issue of refugees, especially those who have taken the risky journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe. But this issue is only the result of a bloody conflict that has driven nearly a quarter of the Syrian population out of their country. As long as powerful countries including the UK do not address both the protection of civilians and the root causes of the conflict and put an end to the bloodshed by pushing for a political solution and stopping any active role in the conflict, Syrians will keep on trying to reach safety.
 
What changes to Britain’s policy on Syria would Oxfam like to see?

  • The UK Government should use its power on the UNSC and other diplomatic routes to influence parties on ground both to seek a peace process, and to respect human rights and humanitarian law in the conduct of hostilities
  • The UK Government must ensure UK arms and ammunition aren’t transferred to the warring parties
  • It’s deeply disappointing that the UK Government is not on track to meet even its modest commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020. The government must not only deliver on its existing commitments to resettle the most vulnerable Syrian refugees but also welcome to the UK more people fleeing conflict, including making it easier for families, split apart by violence, to reunite

If individual citizens are concerned about the Syrian war and want to act in some way to help, what do you propose they do?

They need to write to their elected representatives and push them to lobby the government for real political pressure on the Syria: on resettlement of refugees, the aid response, for protection of civilians and a more proactive diplomatic role on the resolution of the crisis.

People can also donate to Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Appeal. Oxfam has reached over 1.5 million people in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as communities inside Syria with desperately needed food, water and shelter.