Wednesday, September 6, 2017


One anniversary that was largely uncelebrated during the ongoing First World War commemorations was that of the one-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Sykes-Picot-Sazanov agreement. This agreement between France, Imperial Russia and Britain, divided up most of the Arab lands of the then Ottoman Empire (May 19th 1916) and created the boundaries of the modern Middle East.

One hundred and one years later an arc of instability stretches from North West Africa, through the Middle East and on through Pakistan, Afghanistan to the western fringes of the People's Republic of China. Some of this instability has been fed by local wars, local repressive dictatorships (historically supported by various sides in the Cold War) and a whole series of unresolved on-going political problems - some of which, but certainly not all relates to the failure to peacefully resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

A significant measure of responsibility lies with the West and it's history of inept irresponsible intervention and self-serving foreign policy. Some of which date back to self interested (at the time secret) decisions made during the First World War as the Ottoman Empire was to be dismembered by keen and interested parties at least up until the emergence of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

Refuge wise we have been here before, at the end of the First World War, waves of refugees from Armenia, Greece and what was about to become the Soviet Union (then under Lenin and Trotsky) fled to find safety and security. At least in the 1920’s the League of Nations managed to create an internationally recognised and respected system of identity / travel documents, known as Nansen certificates for refuges.

A measure of responsibility for the current instability also lies with the Arab states themselves, initially largely creations of the Imperial powers (Britain and France) - the Arab governments have almost entirely failed to integrate refuges from 1948 into society and choose to leave them to rot in refugee camps on the fringes of society. Repressive Arab governments of various persuasions conveniently raised the issue of the Palestinians and Israel to periodically distract their own oppressed citizens.

Quite understandably the current refugees from Syria have no desire to find themselves in the same situation as the Palestinians, some of whom have been living largely excluded from society in squalid overcrowded refugee camps since 1947. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have all taken in large numbers of refuges - but it’s time for the Gulf States to fork out some cash to pay for significant no strings attached humanitarian aid in Turkey and Lebanon each of whom have taken in over two million refuges.

The Turks continue to play their own game, largely allowing the two-way transit of people and oil into Turkey and out of then ISIS controlled fragments of Syria and Iraq - something that NATO is probably well aware of – aside from trying to lump the Kurds in with ISIS. Trying to recreate a unified Syria and a unified Iraq will have to involve a serious commitment of aid and much military aid (and military advisors) - after the costly failures in Iraq and costly partial successes in Afghanistan - this is probably not going to happen. 

The case for air strikes in Syria remains was only partially made at the second attempt in a reluctant Westminster - there were still too many unanswered questions. As vile as ISIS has been  (these are the people who brought back enslavement, beheadings, and other appalling atrocities) the case for war was not been made.

The former PM's made the questionable claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian fighters on the ground ready to fight ISIS was dubious at best – a doubt that was shared by then Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, amongst others. Simply dropping bombs from the air will not lead to the defeat of ISIS. Nor will it secure peace for the people of Syria and Iraq or bring stability to the wider region. What is needed is a UN agreed plan for a process of reconciliation and reconstruction something that can be quantified, measured and delivered.

All governments must redouble their efforts to secure a comprehensive peace deal for Syria and the wider region including support for the two state solution to bring lasting and meaningful peace between Israel and the Palestinians. World leaders cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of past Western military interventions in the Middle East and we need renewed commitments to support and aid civilians who are suffering as a result of the war, and real pressure on Saudi Arabia and others who are financing ISIS.

Above all there must be practical support for those currently defending themselves on the ground from ISIS such as the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and a commitment from Turkey to cease its attacks upon the Kurds in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. At present any future Western military intervention would simply risk further escalation in Syria and runs the risk of making our own communities at home less safe and less secure and simply plays into the hands of the remnants of ISIS.

No comments:

Post a Comment