Why it’s the moment for diplomacy in Syria

Dear Ceasefire.ca supporter,

I am very worried about the rush by U.S. and NATO forces to launch missile strikes against Syria. This just feels like the wrong course of action.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, I encourage you to visit our Ceasefire.ca post and look at the amazing comments from our community about Syria’s civil war – more than 250 of them! You might even want to add your thoughts, too.

Last week Now magazine in Toronto asked me for my own thoughts on Syria, and I am attaching the article that was published as a result. Also, be sure to like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

In peace,

Steven Staples

Steven Staples on why it’s the moment for diplomacy in Syria

By: Steven Staples

The atrocities in Syria are horrifying. The UN has put the total death toll at 100,000. That means thousands of civilians killed, millions fleeing for safety and now hundreds more potentially felled by poison gas.

It’s easy to understand Canadians’ desire to respond to these events and find some means to assist the Syrian people suffering in a two-year-long civil war. This compassion, this longing to make things better is what makes Canadians special – we believe we can play a positive role in the world.

But our desire to help is being turned into a call for war. Those pushing for missile strikes seem incognizant of the inherent complexities of the conflict or the historic lessons learned from past wars in Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere. The military does not always provide a solution.

Certainly the images from Syria are tragic, the ever-growing casualty figures awful, and the alleged use of chemical weapons an alarming transgression of international law.

People want to strike against President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, but this leaves the West backing murky anti-government forces comprising secular rebels and jihadist fighters. The opposition forces have little unity and in some cases are terrorizing each other. Ironically, military intervention against Assad would inevitably aid anti-Western Islamist groups.

We need only look to our own recent history to know that armed assaults rarely deliver desired results.

In Afghanistan, for instance, our mission drew our country into a decade of war, which cost billions of dollars, the lives of more than 150 soldiers and many times more Afghans, leaving that country no better off today than it was a decade ago.

In Libya, the West deposed strongman and former business partner president Muammar Gaddafi only to leave the Libyan people in a gangland state run by violent criminals and warlords. Consequently, the weapons of that conflict spread across the region, where they were used by Islamists to destabilize neighbouring Mali, a country with strong connections to Canada.

Over the next few weeks, the drums of war will beat loudly. But let’s remember what we’ve learned: military action has inevitable unintended consequences that invariably affect civilians, neighbouring countries and the lives of intervening forces.

There are other choices. Canada can make a difference at the humanitarian level right now, without waiting for other countries. We’ve made a contribution to aid the flood of refugees, but more is needed. Syrian-Canadians are willing to help their families come here until the war is over – we need to look at ways to reunite families.

And our government should use the space created by international indignation over the possible use of chemical weapons to intensify its diplomatic efforts, pressuring Assad’s ally Russia for a ceasefire.

Let’s take action, but let’s make sure it’s not the wrong kind. The risks are too great to make a very bad situation even worse.

Steven Staples is the president of the Rideau Institute.

Tags: Afghanistan, Arms industry, Assad, Canada, Canadian defence policy, Canadian Forces, Canadian foreign policy, Canadian mission in Libya, Defence lobby, Defence policy, Defence spending, Department of National Defence, Diplomacy, Foreign Affairs, Human rights, Peacekeeping, Rideau Institute, Russia, Steven Staples, Syria, UN peacekeeping, United Nations, United States