The assertions that have now been made by two of the permanent members of the UN security council that Syria is using the nerve agent Sarin in the deployment of chemical weapons is further proof that the country, on one or both sides of the conflict, is potentially acting in contravention to international norms and, in particular, against the terms necessary to bring this protracted conflict to an end according to UN guidelines and recommendations. The assertions come as the conflict in Syria reaches dizzying new heights and showing no signs of a peaceful conclusion. The situation has not been helped by the lifting of a recent EU embargo on the supply of arms to Syrian rebels, which is unlikely to aid either side of the conflict and simply increases the number of arms in circulation that could be misused by either party to the conflict.
The situation is all the more frustrating given that in the meeting of European Ministers held earlier this year, the vast majority of EU member states voted against lifting the arms embargo on Syria, ever conscious of the fact that permitting further arms to be sent into Syria will only prolong the conflict. There is some light at the end of the tunnel with a peace conference set to be held on the issue under a joint initiative between the USA and Russia, despite the fact that this has been delayed for the time being. However, it is important that the conference is held at the right time and that maximum benefit can be attained from it using all relevant parties and UN member states with an interest in the conflict.
Another issue remains unresolved, however, related to Russia’s expressed desire to continue to be allowed to supply arms to the Syrian military. Given that Russia is jointly organising the peace conference with the USA, and is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the supply of arms by Russia appears to be a contradiction in terms given it is wishing to take on part of the responsibility for the conference to be held at some point in the future. On the other hand, it is possible that Russia is attempting to downplay the situation by not antagonising Syria whilst still keeping the option of a more peaceful resolution to the crisis on the table. The problem remains in that by supplying arms to a rebel movement where fighting continues to be exacerbated on a daily basis, the foundations are laid in Syria for ever more risk to the civilian population and refugees that are appearing around the country, which is leading the effects of the conflict to be felt beyond the borders of Syria, particularly in neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan. Another problem is that relations with the US are strained at best in the present time due to the opposing approach of the two states regarding Edward Snowden. On the current basis therefore, the international climate is not as conducive as it might be for US-Russia negotiations over Syria.
All members of the UN Security Council, both permanent and non-permanent, would be well placed to condemn the supply of arms by any other member to a civil war that is already stretching the country to breaking point, particularly where arms are highly likely to be used to commit human rights abuses against innocent parties. For the time being, parties to the Geneva Communiqué, a six-point plan drawn up in June 2012, should all work towards its aims of an end to conflict and a cessation of violence until the forthcoming peace conference can take place. The UN, along with the rest of the world, desires to see a peaceful end to the conflict that would see the rule of law re-established, and the supply of weapons ended as soon as possible between now and that time.