Menzies Campbell talks to Today programme about Syria

Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife and respected foreign policy expert talked to the Today programme yesterday about the situation in Syria. Last week he said that he didn’t think the EU arms embargo should be lifted. Now that it has been, he is now calling for a moratorium on arms exports to Syria so that a Conference can take place to try and get a peace process under way.

He told the Today programme yesterday:

I was one of those who expressed grave reservations about the idea of the EU embargo coming to an end which is what is going to happen and I think it was inevitable that there would be some kind of response of the sort we’ve seen in recent days from Russia. There is no point in going back in history and seeking to apportion blame if the only possibility of progress is this conference which for all of the postures and rhetoric does look as if it has a reasonable chance of proceeding.

John Humphrys suggested that there was no incentive for the Conference to succeed if the rebels thought there would be a supply of arms from the EU available if it failed:

I don’t disagree with that and it is a measure of how unsuccessful efforts have been to bring an end to this terrible conflict. If you’ll forgive the flippant way to describe it, the only game in town at the moment is this Conference. That’s why nothing should be done in my view by anyone with an interest which may have the effect of making that  more difficult to achieve. They may not be willing to announce it publicly but at the very least there should be an understanding that there will be a moratorium on any arms exports to any side so that this Conference has a chance of getting off the ground.

This was part of a much longer section in which he debated the situation with Natalia Norochnitskaya of the Parisian based Institute of Democracy and Co-operation. She was defending the Russians supplying the Assad regime with arms by graphically describing atrocities allegedly committed by the rebels. You can listen to the whole section here from 2 hours and 10 minutes in.

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  • I listened to the Today programme discussion and Ming ended with a comment that “there is not very much we can do if the language and conduct we have heard from the Russian colleague is reflected at the conference.” We already know it will be and there is indeed not very much we can do in such an environment.

    There is almost no chance of a moratorium on arms exports to Syria at this Juncture – that would be honoured by Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, not to mention the East european arms suppliers and brokers in the UK, France, Israel and Lebanon.

    The US/Russian initiated conference may be the only game in town, but its chances of producing any kind of successful outcome or even lull in the fighting started poorly and are dwindling by the day.

    Ming is a respected policy expert. Iit may be one of his contemporaries, however, that can suggest a pathway to finding a solution. , Lord Owen, writing in the Guardian last month, set out his thoughts on the issue Syria: a roadmap to peace

    Although Lord Owen’s proposals for a regional settlement that is owned by the region are wide-ranging and ambitious in scope, like Ming, his in-depth experience in the area of foreign policy/conflict resolution gives his views credibility with the public and in the International arena.

    Owen suggests the membership of the conference should involve all Middle East countries, including Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine, which would be expected to have representation from the West Bank and Gaza. He goes on to recommend there would be no preconditions but nothing should be excluded from emerging, neither federations of individual countries, nor parts of countries in the region, nor partition.

    He makes three very important points within the article. Firstly, an essential part of the design of this regional conference is that it should be able to be supported by Russia and China as well as the US. Secondly, he notes that in his meetings under the auspices of the European Leadership Network,he has come to the firm conclusion that there was a readiness within the region for all countries to talk together about regional security. Thirdly, sending arms is unlikely to provide any lasting solution.

    An attempt at such an approach has to be preferable to an internecine Sunni-Shia conflict that sets members of the permanent security council and regional powers on opposite sides of a region-wide conflagration.

  • Former diplomat and UK Special Representative in Iraq 2003-4, and current chairman of the United Nations Association-UK. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, writing in the Evening Standard echoes the thoughts of Lord Owen in suggesting It’s time to think big about solving the crisis in Syria .

    Greenstock says:

    The UK may have few dogs directly in this fight but as a trading nation our stake in a peaceful and prosperous Middle East is significant. We have friends in the area like Turkey, Jordan and Israel who are increasingly affected, and we care about civilian populations whose lives are being trashed in spite of brave efforts by the UN and NGOs.

    The idea of a conference looks like whistling in a gale. But feeding the conflict gets us nowhere either. It is time to get serious in using the tougher instruments of diplomacy, as we did eventually in the Balkans. The point about a conference structure, when established with resources and determination, is that it provides a foundation for three things:

    First, a forum for addressing future arrangements for a state with a variety of different and troubled minorities.

    Second, a mechanism for bringing together the various outside stakeholders who can affect the outcome, even the Iranians, who can do more damage outside than inside the tent.

    And third, a clearing house for much better organised and supported humanitarian efforts — the number and distress of refugees and battered civilians is beginning to overwhelm the neighbourhood.

    If the US, Europe, Russia and the UN take the opportunity seriously, something else could emerge from the catastrophe of Syria. The Middle East, in its stuttering bid for greater freedom, risks collapsing into a mosaic of different local interests and diminishing the talent and potential of the Arab peoples. In addition to the countries already mentioned, Iran, Palestine, Israel, Yemen, Bahrain and the Sahel of North Africa all either threaten or fear, depending on your viewpoint, disruption to peace and prosperity in the area.

    The region’s instability has become a global problem. We need to help the League of Arab States and the non-Arab governments alongside them to establish, from this mess of interlinked problems, a new basis of security and economic co-operation of the kind that lifted Europe after two world wars.

  • Nick Pierce, former Head of the Policy Unit at No 10 and current Directot at the IPPR has set out his thoughts on the Syrian Crisis Syria’s Agony .

    “The Syrian conflict stirs far less public outcry in the west than it should. Weary of foreign wars, distrustful of politicians and economically insecure, the electorates of the western democracies appear singularly unmoved by the tragedy that has unfolded.”

    “In true Cold War style, resolution of the conflict only looks possible if the US and Russia can strike a deal and then roll it out to the main regional players. Even then, there are likely to be holdouts: Iran and Hezbollah on the Shia side, the Sunni jihadis on the other.”

    “But optimistic as it sounds, a peace deal of this kind looks increasingly vital, not just for the Syrians themselves, but for the wider region. Without it, the danger is that the conflict itself will spill out into the rest of the Middle East, alongside the millions of refugees who have already fled Syria. In well-informed analyses of the region’s geopolitical dynamics, there is apocalyptic talk of the ‘end of Sykes-Picot’ and the ‘start of a Thirty Years War’ in the Middle East. The boundaries of the Middle East that were settled in the post-war imperial carving up of the Ottoman Empire and cemented in the transition from Franco-British to US hegemony may be finally starting to unravel, to be replaced by new sectarian cleavages and a reconfiguration of client-state relations with the global powers. If this meant the fulfilment of the emancipatory potential of the Arab spring, justice for the Palestinians and the kind of peaceful transition to democracy enjoyed by Latin America since the 1980s, then that would be one thing. But it is more likely to be a long and bloody nightmare. Diplomacy needs a chance to work.”

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