As the world revolts, the great powers will watch

January 28, 2014

Civil wars, those raging and those yet to come, present the largest immediate threat to human societies. Some have similar roots, but there is no overall unifying cause; except, perhaps, a conviction that the conflict is a fight to oblivion. Victory or death.

Syria currently leads in this grisly league. Deaths now total well over 100,000 in the war between the country’s leader, President Bashar al-Assad,and opposition forces. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported nearly 126,000 dead last month, and said it was probably much higher. More than 2 million Syrians have left their country as refugees, and 4.25 million have fled their homes to other parts of Syria. Last week, a report by three former war crime prosecutors alleged that some 11,000 prisoners had been tortured, many to death, in “industrial scale killing” by the regime of President Assad.

We are watching a relentless horror unfold. The current negotiations between the various factions of the opposition and the Assad government in Montreux may have saved some women and children from the besieged city of Homs, but at the core remains a presently insuperable clash of aims: the regime insists that Assad remain in power, the opposition that he depart immediately. Assad’s forces appear to have the advantage.

Support from Iran and Russia for Assad’s forces is steady and significant. A Reuters report earlier this month said that aid from Russia was increasing. Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA, said in Washington last month that an Assad win might be the best “out of three very very ugly options.”

Another ugly option — according to Hayden the most likely — is continuing conflict between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam factions. It could create a larger civil war, dragging one Muslim country after another into deepening conflict over the two branches’ differing interpretations of the legacy of the Prophet Mohammad. The Shi’ite, the minority in the Muslim world, is the majority in Iraq. There the Sunni minority, which had been the most loyal supporters of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, are attacking Shi’ite centers and provoking counter attacks.

Yet in two other Muslim states, the feud is largely irrelevant. In Afghanistan the Shi’ite are no more than 5 to 10 percent of the population. The growing power of the Taliban — once thought defeated by a NATO intervention a decade ago — now threatens the central government, whose authority and armed forces are proving inadequate to the task of taking over from NATO once its troops withdraw this year. An unannounced civil war is already under way as the prize of state power once more seems achievable.

In Egypt, the Shi’ite are an even smaller community. The conflict there is between the supporters of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood and the army-dominated state power. The latter’s leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, will likely stand for president in an election brought forward in a bid to establish stability, while numbers of deaths and arrests at Brotherhood demonstrations grow. The Brotherhood still has wide support. As the economic situation deteriorates in Egypt, a wider conflict is still possible — this time pitting poorer, rural areas against both the military and their urban supporters.

A similar split runs through Thailand’s politics — except that the rural poor support the present government of Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was dismissed from power by the military in 2006. Shinawatra remains popular in the countryside because redistribution policies played to their benefit, but the city dwellers charge his administration with rampant corruption and have forced the postponement of elections that were scheduled for February 2, which Shinawatra was thought sure to win.

In the new nation of South Sudan, the government of  President Salva Kiir last week signed a ceasefire agreement with the forces of his former vice president Riek Machar. Almost instantly, both sides accused the other of breaking the agreement. Now a return to hostilities seems likely. The two men come from rival tribes. The new nationhood of their country has been too weak and there is too much in contention between them to unite them in support of the state, and to rule out a struggle for power.

In Ukraine a division between EU supporters and the government widens and compromise efforts fail. President Viktor Yanukovich, faced with a revived protest movement over the past few weeks, offered the premiership to an opposition figure. The opposition rejected the offer as “poisoned.” Protesters have occupied the Justice Ministry in Kiev and mounted demonstrations in cities in Ukraine’s east, an area traditionally aligned with Russia.

A civil war in a country that straddles the divide between Russian and European civilizations is today possible. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez’s legacy, presided over by his successor, Nicolas Maduro, also endeavors to woo an opposition that won’t soften. The army had been solidly behind Chavez, himself a military officer. It is less loyal now to Maduro, who has neither élan nor success on his side.

Little can be done about these and other conflicts. Intervention — aside from an occasional foray, as French forces still fighting Islam extremists in Mali attest — is now shunned rather than embraced. The impetus for peace must come from within. This is the emerging shape of the present world, which, sooner or later, will be settled by superior force — as was the civil war in Sri Lanka, five years ago. We have learned that non-intervention has as many, or even more, victims as intervention. Yet the rich world will watch, send aid, keep out.

PHOTO: Protesters, who are against the Syrian government, demonstrate outside the United Nations building in Geneva, as international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi holds talks with a Syrian government delegation led by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem January 24, 2014. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi


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First the Cold War, and then a period of American interventionism has caused these conflicts to lie dormant for a long time. Interventions will be replaced by support aka arms deals which are lucrative to their sponsor nations, mainly Russia and the US.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

Foreign governments should not intervene, with force, in any of these conflicts. History is proof enough. But a direct influence can be applied. Follow the money. These struggles are led by those who seek power and wealth. Old wrongs are used to manipulate the masses, corruption is a given. The leader is supported by his inner circle, all of whom want a piece of the big pie. If a group of the world’s large banks, brokerages and corporations gave this circle of people the ultimatum, if you don’t play nice you can’t join our game, it would get their attention. These want to be players are in a conflict and need a place to run if they crap out. Companies denying all these individuals the right to invest outside their country for LIFE would create dissention in the Mickey Mouse clubhouse. These companies would create a great public image, while pursuing an improved business environment, and spending nothing. The smaller companies would avoid the rebuke of the larger since everyone is in everyone else’s pocket in today’s global finances. World governments stand on the side lines, cheer and swing pompoms, lawyers will make a buck, it’s a natural law, and I get bragging rights.

Posted by nozone | Report as abusive

>Intervention … is now shunned rather than embraced

PC-speak. That time this should mean “no player dare to do this unopposed – by all means – again”. Evidence of THAT turnaround was some line drawn off Nicosia – with NATO ships on one side and VMF RF ones on another.

Posted by chyron | Report as abusive

With the fall of the US Empire recently, which was the enabler of this social change, this continual unfolding of history will not allow us to remain disinterested observers much longer.

The concept of “intervention” is as dead as the concept of the “Great Powers”.

The “Great Powers” will be far too busy keeping their own collapsing governments together and revolting people in line to worry about anything else.

Posted by EconCassandra | Report as abusive

“The “Great Powers” will be far too busy keeping their own collapsing governments together and revolting people in line to worry about anything else.”

We can hope. I think the world has had about enough “humanitarian intervention” to last forever. Time for people to solve their own problems

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

you mean america has had enough intervention. with enough terrorism growing in so many different regions the great powers will not just have to depend on drones they got take some actions in time,.

Posted by sorrymess | Report as abusive