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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Diplomatic Pressure & Human Rights: The Case of Syria

It is perhaps telling that the world is more or less content, at least as of 2011, to rely on diplomatic pressure in the idyllic hope that it is sufficient to remove a tyrant from power.

In August 2011, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement condemning Assad’s offensive in Syria against his own people. The Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council also denounced Assad’s violence. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain withdrew their respective ambassadors. Meanwhile, the Obama administration praised the increased diplomatic pressure and urged that more was needed. Washington was looking to Turkey to use its influence. “Historically, concerted multilateral pressure and sanctions have the greatest impact on the Assad regime’s calculations,” Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said. We “know that sanctions impact the regime, given its terrible economic situation and the regime’s worsening finances,” he added. Yet an expert from the International Crisis Group admits that it may not matter to the very top.

I contend that even though a “calculations” approach in response to Assad may match his tactical-oriented or strategic approach to governance, the “tit-for-tat” level is grossly insufficient not only for removing a tyrant from power, but also in terms of dealing with human rights abuses. In other words, calculated effect is too wan for a domain such as human rights in which people are literally losing their lives.

                                                  LA Times (2011)

For example, relying on Saudi Arabia to pressure Assad because he has been going after Sunni tribes with ties to the kingdom naively assumes that the dictator would simply walk away from power simply from external pressure. Even in spite of opposition from the Arab League, Gadhafi was able to hold on to power at least as of August of 2011. Even bombing Tripoli and aiding the opposition had not achieved enough external pressure to remove the tyrant from power. Was Assad to simply walk away from solely diplomatic pressure?

If Gadhifi had lost the right to rule by international agreement, then to do anything less than remove him from power by force makes the international position look weak, if not impotent. For someone such as Barak Obama to say, “Gadahi must leave,” and then for the tyrant to remain makes Obama look foolish (and impotent).  That is to say, Obama ought not over-reach. More generally, if the international consensus is that a tyrant has lost the legitimacy to rule, the parties of that consensus are obliged to remove that tyrant unless an international mechanism is set up to do remove rulers who have been “ruled” illegitimate. In other words, governmental sovereignty is not an absolute, and the world ought not reply on diplomatic pressure to enforce transgressors. The duty arises out of the declaration and because the citizens being abused are not in a position to remove their dictator themselves.


Borzou Daragahi, "Arab Nations Add to Pressure on Syrian Regime," LA Times, August 9, 2011. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-syria-protests-20110809,0,3999024.story