Syria and the failure of the Annan Peace Plan
Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan would probably be the first to concede that his assignment as the United Nations and Arab League Peace Envoy to Syria which he undertook in February this year was always likely to be a tough diplomatic task and that the chances of failure were high.
Such chances as there might have been that the mission might succeed would probably have been enhanced by Mr Annan’s considerable diplomatic experience and his understanding of international affairs and specifically the nature of the crisis in Syria.
On the other hand there are those who might argue that Mr Annan of all people would have known enough about the Syrian crisis to steer clear of such an undertaking. Now that he has conceded failure he cannot honestly say that he is altogether surprised at the outcome.
To succeed, the Kofi Annan Plan would have had to secure the backing of the Syrian government and the Security Council. It never came remotely close to realizing either. From its inception the endgame of the Annan Plan was the removal of the Assad regime in Syria.
Bashir al-Assad knew this and was not about to negotiate himself out of power. On the other hand the Syrian ruler was satisfied to play a diplomatic game with Mr Annan to distract from his incrementally brutal domestic crackdown on people deemed hostile to his regime. If there came a point at which Mr Annan knew that Damascus had no intention of honouring its ceasefire commitment, there was little he could do to persuade the regime to do so.
The plan fared no better with the anti-Assad opposition inside Syria. Once it had organized itself into a fighting unit it was always more inclined to commit itself to confronting the Assad regime rather than taking the Kofi Anan ceasefire call seriously. In an odd sort of way the Syrian regime and the opposition were batting on the same wicket – so to speak. Kofi Annan was not.
Once it became clear that his ceasefire plan was securing no traction with the opposing forces inside Syria Mr Annan had little option but to turn to the UN Security Council. Here, he ran into the brick wall to superpower intransigence, a harsh reminder that little if anything has changed in the post-Cold War United Nations; the Security Council was still an amphitheatre for superpower arm-wrestling, its discourses having more to do with old-style big power conflict than with the crisis in Syria.
To no one’s surprise Washington and Moscow not only failed to come even remotely close to arriving at a common position on Syria but also struck a posture reminiscent of Cold War behaviour. Apart from the fact that the UN was once again presented as no more than the decorative living room of international diplomacy we witnessed the unchanging role of the council as a conflict chamber for the big powers. Indeed, as Secretary General Ban Ki Moon himself pointed out recently, the divisions of the Security Council “have themselves become an obstacle to diplomacy, making the work of any mediator costly and more difficult.”
As the Syrian writer and opposition activist Louay Hussein wrote in one of his well- publicized e-mails, “the responsibility of the failure of Mr Annan in his mission is the responsibility of the international community and not the Syrian parties to the conflict.” It was a point which Mr Annan himself made in articulating his frustration with the process when he announced his resignation last week. Apart from stating what he must have felt at the very start of his mission, that is, that President Assad must leave office,” Mr Annan pointed to what he saw as a lack of “serious, purposeful and united international pressure… to compel the Syrian government, in the first place, and the opposition to take the steps necessary to begin a political process.” More than that and in a thinly veiled reference to the manner in which the major powers conducted the debate on Syria in the Security Council Mr Annan was also critical of what he called the “finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council.”
In the final analysis and while Mr Annan has made it clear that he regards the Syrian regime as untenable he still believes that “the greater focus must be on measures and structures to secure a peaceful long-term transition to avoid chaotic collapse.” The problem is that the Syrian crisis may have already reached a point of “chaotic collapse” and Secretary General Ban’s reference to a likely successor to Mr Annan appears to have been made without any real conviction. The fear is that in the absence of a Plan B for Syria further bloodshed would appear to be highly likely.