Statement by Professor Hans Köchler, President of the International Progress Organization, on the Syrian Crisis

Hans Koechler

(In response to questions from the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations”)

Considering disastrous results of Western policy towards Lybia, what could be proposed to avoid the same mistakes in case of Syria and Iran?

The military intervention of NATO in Libya has not only brought about disastrous “régime change,” but has led to the political fragmentation of the country and to a situation of anarchy. It has profoundly destabilized the political situation in the wider North African and Middle Eastern region – with repercussions now felt in Syria where Libyan arms have surfaced in the hands of insurgents. The Western countries have not acted in good faith, and have exploited Security Council resolution 1973 (2011) for their own strategic interests. The adoption of the Libya resolution, supposedly motivated by noble humanitarian goals, was possible because of the abstention of two permanent members, namely China and Russia. It is essential that the Western powers in the Security Council – the United States, France and the United Kingdom – are not again given a carte blanche by the Council, which would allow them to go ahead with an armed intervention in Syria or against Iran with the supposed blessing of the international community.

The main element of a solution in the Syrian conflict will have to be negotiations among the concerned Syrian parties without outside interference. This means that foreign fighters and mercenaries, including personnel of Western intelligence services, must leave the country. Neighboring countries such as Turkey must not offer their territory for infiltration of foreign fighters into Syria, or for logistical purposes of the insurgents. Such assistance constitutes a blatant violation of international law, and in particular of the Principles set out in Article 2 of the UN Charter. The new envoy of the United Nations Organization, Lakhdar Brahimi, should be given full support by all member states for his mediation efforts on the basis of the plan drawn up by his predecessor Kofi Annan. Unlike the initiatives of the “Friends of Syria” – who effectively are the “friends of the Syrian opposition,” the major countries of the Middle Eastern region may jointly play a useful role as facilitators of negotiations. The proposal of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi for the formation of a “Contact Group,” consisting of Egypt, Iran, Saudi-Arabia, and Turkey, should be given due consideration. (Iran must not be excluded from such a regional initiative.) What has to be avoided by all means is the taking of sides in favour of a particular party or group in Syria. In a situation of domestic conflict, partisan action by foreign powers will make a peaceful and lasting resolution of the conflict virtually impossible. For the time being, the two existing regional organizations – the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – cannot play a constructive role because both have suspended Syria’s membership and, thus, taken sides in the conflict. A bilateral “working group” such as the one between the United States and a regional state (namely Turkey) will also be counterproductive to a peaceful settlement since this arrangement exposes the entire region to the geopolitical agenda of a distant superpower, and risks to “globalize” the ongoing (regional) proxy war – with dangerous consequences for all involved (including Turkey).

Talking about civilizational dimension of Syrian conflict, what are your possible considerations on the future of Muslim-Western relations?

Because of the cultural and religious diversity of Syria, the domestic conflict in the country has implications for relations between the Muslim and Western world in general. Should religious fanaticism prevail and the Syrian state structure collapse, the situation of Christians – who have lived in the land since the days of Jesus – may become untenable, with repercussions all over the Middle East and Europe. At the same time, relations between Sunni and Shia communities in the entire Muslim world will be seriously affected. Those states that have declared themselves as “Friends” of the United Nations “Alliance of Civilizations,” such as Saudi-Arabia and Turkey, must not further engage in armed interference in the domestic conflict in Syria. Their actions have not only undermined the United Nations’ credibility in regard to inter-civilizational and inter-cultural dialogue, they now risk to lead the region into a long sectarian war, with unintended consequences for the intervening states, and unpredictable consequences for the entire world.

Vienna, 23 August 2012