This week Ban Ki Moon made a major diplomatic blunder. The issue revolves around the second round of peace talks regarding Syria and the Assad regime. According to Amia Nakhoul and Khaled Yacoub Oweis of Reuters, “Ban said Iran’s foreign minister had told him Tehran accepted the 2012 statement [from the first Geneva conference peace talks], which includes a requirement that Syria set up a transitional government.” Officials in Tehran denied this premise and “the Syrian opposition threatened to pull out of the conference and Western countries demanded Ban withdraw the invitation.”1 So that he did; a move that further highlighted the weakness of this second round of peace talks, calling into question how much good they can actually accomplish.
This is not an unfounded critique of the UN peace talks—Reuters correctly reported that it has been a year and a half since the first Geneva conference concluded without a compromise. Since then, all other diplomatic endeavors have also failed. To me, this forces us to question whether soft power approaches to conflict resolution can succeed in combatting hard power problems. As a student of International Communication and Diplomacy, I would like to think they could—but situations like this call these idealistic hopes into question.
Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote on this topic recently. She urged the UN to remember the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine, and focus the peace talks on getting the different factions to agree on allowing humanitarian aid access to civilians and to stop targeting medical personnel on the ground. Slaughter goes further, asserting, “If Assad’s Ba’ath party cannot uphold that responsibility, it forfeits its own legitimacy as a participant in any future government.”2 This would in fact solve the political aspect of this conflict by ousting Assad, but a resolution only has as much power as the signers and backers give it. If the Assad Regime does not support the R2P Doctrine, then they have no reason to delegitimize their own authority.
Bringing the debate back to U.S. Foreign Policy, Slaughter implores President Obama and his administration to “put the credible threat of force back on the table.” She asserts the only time in this three-year civil war that diplomacy has succeeded was when the U.S. made the credible threat of missile strikes. This threat, however, is no longer credible if there is no power behind the punch. Thus, Slaughter suggests, the U.S. and regional partners need to be willing to follow up and strike the Assad Regime if (read—when) this second set of peace talks fails.3
Will diplomacy win? Only time can tell. But from what we have witnessed so far, you cannot broker peace with individuals in the business of terror.