On Wednesday, the United Nations (UN) dramatically raised the number of fatalities in the ongoing civil war in Syria to 60,000. The number is much higher than all previous estimates. This is, perhaps, one of the highest tolls for such a conflict in the 21st century. The revised estimates pertain to the period between 15 March 2011 and 30 November 2012. They were released by the UN high commissioner for refugees Navi Pillay.
What is happening in Syria fits a broader pattern. There have been other instances of such failures, too, in recent decades. The largely ignored tragedy in the Great Lakes region of Africa is another example. But in that case, the failure was because of neglect and lack of interest on part of the great powers. In the Syrian case, it is a conflict among these powers—Russia and China on one side and the US on the other—that has led to a diplomatic stalemate. So, the arc of neglect, as it were, is a blend of both disinterest and aggressive interest. It is rare to find a recent example when two opposing sentiments have led to so much misery in global affairs. This marks a grave crisis of multilateralism of the variety practised at the UN.
The ideal solution to end the Syrian crisis would have been to copy the Libyan template—total aerial domination and aggressive support to insurgents on the ground. Whatever be the current travails of that country—tribalism gone wrong; regional fissures; the inability of a centralized authority to impose its writ—the fact is it is experiencing peace. At the moment, however, the world is no mood for such a solution. And that is the tragedy of Syria. While rich and powerful countries try and regain economic vitality, bloodshed and mayhem continue unchecked in this part of the Levant.
As matters stand, this conflict is now a war of attrition. Sooner or later, Bashar al-Assad will have to go: one simply cannot rule a country when the majority of its population is up in arms against its ruler. But that is not the issue at stake. It is the hypocrisy of those who champion national sovereignty for all nations that stands exposed now. Just that the cost of this idea has been terrible.
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