Syria’s descent into civil war is accelerating, with reports of massacres coming in daily. But Russia and China are blocking a decisive response at the United Nations, just as they have since the middle of 2011.
Is the European Union about to engage in a proxy war in the Sahara? In late-July, European foreign ministers directed EU officials to come up with “concrete proposals” for supporting an African stabilization force in Mali. There’s no doubt that Mali needs stabilizing: Islamist separatists with links to al-Qaida have seized the north of the country, and the south has been in political turmoil since a coup in March.
The Syrian civil war is becoming simultaneously more brutal and more confusing. As the battle for Aleppo has dragged on and diplomatic efforts to forge a peace deal have been derailed, it has been hard to assess whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime are close to collapse or able to sustain a protracted war. Yet there is a growing sense that, if and when Assad falls, some sort of international peacekeeping force will likely be needed to prevent Syria from descending into worse chaos.
A malaise has settled over diplomatic discussions of the Syrian civil war at the United Nations. Last week, there was confusion over whether the U.N. had a replacement for Kofi Annan as envoy to Damascus. Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi had been offered the post, but it was unclear whether he would accept it.
The wars in Mali and Syria have followed very different trajectories over the past month. While Syria has become symbolic of international inaction, France’s use of force in Mali has shown that some Western governments are still willing to launch new interventions abroad. And while there have been no dramatic military shifts in Syria, French troops have pushed deep into northern Mali with growing speed.
The Obama administration signaled that it intends to set the diplomatic pace over Syria as the U.S. and Russia announced joint plans for a peace conference. This was not only an accommodating gesture to the Russians, who have made immense political capital out of the conflict, but also a setback for Britain and France, which have agitated for a more hawkish Western line, including arming the Syrian rebels.