There are no good solutions to the conflict in Syria. We have already seen the Syrian government accept the UN Security Council backed UN-Arab League envoy, for it to fail and chemical weapons used subsequently. Moreover, we have seen how even when the Geneva communique was issued on 30 June 2012, it has been very difficult to get all sides with interest in the conflict around the table. The sticking points are simple, the Assad Regime believes it has a sovereign right to deal with this civil war, where as the Geneva process requires:
- The establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers – which includes members of the government and opposition.
- The establishment of a meaningful national dialogue process.
- Review of the constitutional order and legal system.
- Free and fair multiparty elections.
- Full representation of women in all aspects of the transition.
For the Assad Regime these premises are unacceptable, and the notion of a transitional government is also unacceptable to the Russian’s and Iranian’s. However, because of other international events the Geneva II process is all that is on the table.
Part of the problem is that the conflict in Libya was supposed to be about preventing a genocide, which is why it managed to get UN backing, but this turned into a de facto regime change mission by the French, British and Americans. As such, the Russians and Chinese governments have blocked a UN Security Council route to solving the Syria conflict. Without any political will for military intervention, and the UN system blocked, all that is left are diplomatic solutions between international, regional and local actors. Geneva II is the only show in town.
So what are the sticking points of Geneva II?
In addition to the Assad regime not wanting to give up power, it is clear that the Syrian opposition is very divided in terms of what they want, but also their desires to compromise and ability to communicate their demands. Yet, making this more complicated it is clear that whilst the Geneva communique was being drawn up, there was less attention to how terrorists organisations were taking advantage of the conflict. Now this is a multiplayer conflict between the Assad regime, the Syrian opposition, and terrorist organisations seeking to utilise the conflict for both political and training purposes. This has changed the strategic calculations being made in Washington and European capitals. The level of corridor diplomacy at Geneva II reflects this, but so does the increasing divide between the US Department of State, where John Kerry is reported to accept that Geneva II has failed, and the White house that wants to hold course on its current Syria strategy. So it is not simply a case that the talks are destined to failure because of divides between those around the table, but also because since the Geneva process was envisaged facts on the ground have changed and helped shift strategic interests over what the solution should look like.
What does this all mean for the second round of talks?
The Geneva process is not over, and is not destined for failure entirely. Being led by Lakhdar Brahimi, there isn’t a more experienced or appropriate peace-maker in the world, and this should provide hope. However, it is clear that the vision set out in the Geneva communique is very unlikely to emerge. High level members of the Assad regime will not step down, because this will leave them open to the international criminal system for crimes against humanity – which are not just linked to the chemical weapons attacks but new evidence of collective punishment. The best case scenario is that a ceasefire is agreed and holds, so that humanitarian aid can get through. Whilst this will not be a success overall for the diplomatic process, it may well be for the 9.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance (6.5 million are internally displaced; 2.4 million are refugees in neighbouring countries) and in particular the 2.5 million people that cannot currently be reached. The Geneva II process is their best hope to a conflict without any good solutions.