Kotarski: How should Canada respond to the rising violence in Syria?

By: /
February 27, 2012

The diplomatic situation is almost as ugly as the humanitarian crisis itself.

Given that Russian arms continue to flow to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and that Russia and China have prevented the UN Security Council from authorizing additional sanctions or any direct intervention aimed at protecting civilians, a plausible solution to the humanitarian crisis probably has to begin in Moscow.

The problem is, Canada has very little leverage there, and Canada’s strongest allies—the United States and the United Kingdom—have an antagonistic relationship with Vladimir Putin’s government, especially after NATO’s intervention in Libya.

Given those realities, Canada can continue on its course of participating in diplomatic efforts to pressure Russia and China to abandon their present levels of support for Assad’s regime. This is a worthwhile (if frustrating) effort that may eventually pay off, but it leaves Ottawa in the position of playing a bit role in great power politics, which offers very little help to Syrian civilians outside of the symbolic realm.

If Canada wishes to do more (and it should), Ottawa could take on a larger role in humanitarian relief efforts by channeling additional funds to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which begun evacuating civilians in Homs this week.

It should also get behind the recent UN and Arab League initiative to send envoy Kofi Annan to Syria, an initiative that presently enjoys Russia’s support and that could change the diplomatic landscape whether Annan succeeds or fails.