The deadline for a hoped-for ceasefire in Syria has passed without ending violence there, with Syrian government troops continuing to shell the city of Homs, according to reports. A statement from the UN’s Kofi Annan, however, says that “We still have time between now and the 12th to stop the violence and I appeal to all concerned, the Government in the first place, and the opposition forces”. He continued:
”œI believe it’s a bit too early to say that the plan has failed,” Mr. Annan said. ”œThe plan is still on the table and it’s a plan we are all fighting to implement. It’s a plan the Council has endorsed, a plan the Syrians have endorsed, and from the comments made by the opposition they are also prepared to go along with it if the Government meets its commitments to pull the troops out. So the plan is very much alive.”
Mr. Annan said he would submit a report to the Security Council today sharing the information he has received from the Syrian Government on troop withdrawals, and stated that there have been indications of the Government withdrawing in various cities.
However, he expressed concern over reports from other sources indicating that there have been military movements to other areas which have not previously been targeted.
”œWe are not on the ground yet. One of the things that we are discussing is a UN monitoring mission that will monitor and supervise the cessation of violence,” Mr. Annan said, underlining that a presence in the country will help to monitor, observe and report on the situation.
Despite this setback, Annan has the right idea and those who are calling for Western military intervention in Syria have the wrong one – based on the way that shootings and shellings have more media presence than famines and disease. Batting some ballpark figures around with Shashank Joshi of RUSI, we came up with an estimated cost of any meaningful intervention in Syria of around $40 billion a year – based on the costs to the US of the Libyan and Iraqi wars and scaling accordingly. On purely utilitarian terms, such an intervention would save perhaps 8,000 lives. By contrast, one hundredth of that amount spent on famine relief in West Africa could save 80,000 and one tenth of that figure spent on malaria eradication would save 800,000 lives a year every year forever. Yet the West isn’t willing to dig up the cash for such efforts. “The greatest good of the greatest number” would not be served by a military intervention in Syria. Instead it would serve neoliberal plans for regime change and weakening Iran, without any more plan for the second and third order consequences than was shown in Iraq or Libya. Instead, non-military options – sanctions, funding for refugee camps in neighbouring countries, political pressure and more negotiations – should be employed to try to make Annan’s plan or a version of it an eventual reality.