Hard Choices in Syria

Rotary’s Pancake Race in Carfax last Tuesday was conducted with all its usual panache with local charities and businesses competing in style.

It made however a surreal backdrop to some serious conversations.  While we were watching, the topic raised with me was Syria and where the current confrontation may lead. 

It is of course a real concern.  Alas while the appalling behaviour of the Assad regime is well documented there are also elements of the Syrian opposition that would not bear close scrutiny.  Meanwhile elements of Russia’s military exist alongside Assad’s forces in what is an exceptionally complex space. 

Clearly it can be said that the “easiest” option is to turn our backs and leave Syria well alone.

However even this has consequences.  Ever-present, at the heart of Carfax, around which we were enjoying the pancake spectacular, stands the town’s War Memorial.  The first war was conducted with such savagery that at its close international agreements were put in place that never again would any country unleash the horrors of chemical warfare.  After the second war it was agreed that the United Nations should be created which would include all the major powers and which, through independent investigation and dialogue, would help prevent war.

This week, at the UN, Russia vetoed a resolution that called for an independent investigation into the chemical attack in Syria.  It is the twelfth occasion on which they have blocked a Syria resolution.  The investigation was to focus on the alleged use on civilians in Douma of chlorine gas and the nerve agent sarin. 

 Whether in Syria or in Salisbury any use of such weapons is horrific.  If nations, especially members of the UN’s Security Council, do not act in these circumstances it makes a peaceful world order and all future attempts at broader disarmament ever harder to achieve. 

A decision to react must be based on certainty, caution, openness and proportionality.  It need not necessarily be military but must be effective and targeted at the perpetrators.  However for there to be no reaction would signal that the World community is unwilling to stand by international norms that have for over 70 years have made us all safer. 

Photo caption: The Samaritans who do great work from their local base in Denne Road, Horsham were among many charities competing in this year’s Pancake Race.