When will the world finally act?

Here are something I wrote following the last Munich Security Conference (printed originally by the Israeli Daily Yedioth Ahronoth)


Judging by the reaction of Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, to Joe Biden’s speech at the Munich Security Conference, Iran does not take the threats issued by the US seriously.

On Saturday, as vice president Joe Biden addressed the Iranian crisis and reiterated, in an aggressive tone of voice, that the Obama Administration would do everything in its power to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the ayatollah regime’s senior diplomatic representative at the conference fell into a deep slumber. The man sitting next to Soltanieh gently tried to wake him, most likely to tell him that Biden was talking about him, but Soltanieh only moved his hand slightly and appeared to awaken momentarily before closing his eyes again.

The purpose of the Munich Security Conference, the most important forum on security and international relations issues, which was founded 49 years ago, was to learn from the painful lessons of history. However, Soltanieh’s eyelids can be regarded, to a certain extent, as an allegory for the entire issue: The enlightened countries of the world really do want to make it a better place, and are certainly putting forth the effort; but even in the post-Soviet era, after all the atrocities, various genocides and sweeping war crimes, and after several countries have obtained or are close to obtaining nuclear weapons through deceitful means; in the era of the global village and social networks – they still cannot save the world. The West is restrained by a series of laws, systems and interests that prevent it from acting in most cases, or that allow it to act only when it is already too late.

The conference focused on the most difficult question of all – when is the international community permitted to intervene in the domestic affairs of a particular country? When does the crossing of a red line justify an American strike in Iran? Was the latest military intervention by France in the Sahara justified and prudent? Is Israel permitted to block arms shipments from Syria to Hezbollah? And, most importantly, when will the international community finally intervene in the Syrian civil war?

Some cases, such as the Iranian nuclear crisis and the arms shipments to Hezbollah, are problematic and controversial to begin with. But even in those instances where it appears that there is consensus on the need for forceful intervention for the sake of world peace, no action is taken. During the conference, France’s representatives presented intelligence information, which was obtained in real time, showing al-Qaeda convoys en route to seizing control of the regime in Mali. The European Union’s special intervention force was set up especially for these types of situations, but it was not activated due to opposition from some member states. Senior German officials said they would not justify the use of force in any case unless it served a direct German European interests.

As for the Syrian issue, it appears that even Germany— which, due to its past, almost automatically has reservations about any military action (Foreign Minister Westerwelle reiterated his country’s objection to any military operation in Iran)—approved military intervention; but the US, which wants to avoid a fierce military conflict with Assad’s army and fears heighten diplomatic tensions with Russia, has failed to act. Russia’s foreign minister cautioned Saturday that “we should avoid a any forceful intervention, without a mandate from the UN Security Council (which is always vetoed by Russia).

Vice President Biden boasted at the conference that he had recently instructed the IS administration to add another $50 million to the humanitarian aid budget for Syrian refugees; but given the scale of their need, this seems no more than a paltry token.

During the genocide in Rwanda, the average daily death toll was higher than that of the Jewish Holocaust. Years later, the US eventually apologized to the people of Rwanda for failing to intervene. The Americans can already draft the apology they will be sending the citizens of Syria in a decade or two.

Image Credits: MSC