After a massacre in Houla, international diplomacy on Syria has kicked into high gear. That's the right response, but the only real solution will be an end to the Assad regime, says DW's Rainer Sollich.
The United Nations can have just two objectives in Syria. First, the continuing bloodshed must be stopped. Second, everything must be done to prevent an even bigger bloodbath from occurring in the future.
After the massacre in Houla resulting in more than a hundred dead, including many women and children, it is clearer than ever that the UN has been unable to reach either of those goals.
The Assad regime continues to push on with its unscrupulous pursuit to maintain power - even at the cost of many lives. And the world community sees itself as unable to do more than offer harsher criticism of the regime's actions. Parts of the opposition movement are radicalizing. Their resistance is growing more militant, which offers a breeding ground for radical groups. Vengeance is becoming one of the dominant impulses.
A regime with no future
Syria is in a desperate state. People are dying daily, and there are growing indicators that a long civil war could take hold. It has also become clear that Assad's regime has no future. Even his most loyal supporters within the state cannot ignore that the country is growing more isolated internationally. Further, they can see that, though Assad has managed to keep his government intact, the country itself has come unhinged despite the brutal violence used by Assad's forces.
Unfortunately, it cannot be ruled out that a fall of the regime would prevent an even bloodier scenario, and that danger grows the longer Assad remains in power. The prospect of a lasting conflict is due in part to the opposition movement's inability to dispel ethnic and religious minority groups' fears that a victory for the opposition could lead to acts of revenge against or expulsion of minorities. Those fears have been spread by Assad and state-controlled media.
Rainer Sollich is the head of DW's Arabic department
That words instead of deeds keep following violence must seem downright cynical to the families of Syrian victims. Nevertheless, it would be reasonable for all democratic governments to stand together. International Syria mediator Kofi Annan is meeting in Damascus with high government officials. US President Barack Obama will pitch his idea of a Yemen solution - that is, an orderly transfer of power in stages. Britain is also pushing Russia to support a regime change.
The second approach promises to be more fruitful. After all, Moscow supported the most recent UN Security Council resolution in which Syria's regime received unusually harsh - if somewhat roundabout - criticism. This is an important entry point for showing Russia that it runs the risk of losing influence in the long term in the region if it continues to support Assad's regime of violence.
But Russia also has to be given reliable prospects for preserving its interests in Syria after the end of the Assad era. That duty falls to western states and to the Arab League, increasingly dominated by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as to the Syrian opposition itself.
Intervention off the table?
And if none of that helps? One can scarcely hope for an overthrow of Assad by his own associates and the beginning of a national reconciliation process, although that would likely be the best solution. The risks of military engagement from abroad are, on the other hand, known to be so large that the international community rightly continues to view that option as taboo.
But how long will that be the case? If all other possibilities fail and the massacres keep getting bigger, the time will come at some point to rethink the risks and opportunities involved with outside intervention.
Author: Rainer Sollich / gsw
Editor: Neil King