The image of a deceased 3-year-old, Alan Kurdni, made headlines around the world on September 25, 2015. Kurdni washed up dead on the shores of a beach after his overcrowded lifeboat, filled with hundreds of refugees, sank in the Mediterranean Sea. Kurdi and the refugees were attempting to travel to Europe to escape the Syrian civil war.
The conflict in Syria has spanned seven years and is responsible for over 465,000 deaths. After so many casualties, it is important for the international community to bring safety and closure to the Syrian people through long-term treaties, economic sanctions, and humanitarian aid.
Tensions rose between President Bashar al Assad and the Syrian people in 2011 because of Assad’s intolerance of peaceful anti-regime protests. Assad killed protesters and then began bombing cities, killing innocent civilians. Assad used chemical weapons in August of 2013 to attack Syrians in the suburbs of the capital city, Damascus.
At this point, international leaders realized that the conflict was only going to get more brutal if they did not intervene. Diplomats initially attempted to a establish a ceasefire. When that failed, they resorted to military intervention. This only escalated the conflict, making it into a proxy war: the militias found support from countries like Iran, who sent large quantities of weapons to the rebel groups in hopes that they would empower Sunni Muslims.
In addition to being a proxy war, the Syrian civil war has direct, dangerous implications for the U.S. in the form of radicalizing terrorist groups. When the conflict began in 2011, militias rebelling against the Assad regime asked for the support of the United States. The United States never responded, which radicalized rebel groups, making them see the United States as the enemy. These groups would eventually became terrorist groups, one of which is ISIS.
To find out how the international community can solve this complex issue, I interviewed David Phillips, the Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Phillips has also worked as the Senior Adviser to the U.S. Department of State.
In our interview, Phillips noted that this specific conflict is complicated because the victims of oppression often become the aggressors. So, to have a peace deal, Phillips explained, “Everyone who is involved in hostility needs to have their views taken on board and there needs to be an agreement that satisfies all of those different parties.” Peace treaties in Syria should be settled in two ways: long-term treaties and short-term sanctions.
The first type of peace treaty is permanent and would end the war once and for all. However, it would take years to settle. This type of peace treaty occurs when involved parties call a ceasefire and insist on a long-term “white peace,” which requires formal authorization from the UN Security Council, affected parties, and the Syrian government.
The alternative is imposing sanctions from the UN or some external power. The militias can negotiate the terms of the sanctions with the third party. If militias don’t follow the terms of the sanctions, the international community can sanction what is called “All Necessary Measures” under the UN Charter, which means using military force to make the militias cooperate.
Even if these methods of dividing power are effective, just ending the Syrian civil war doesn’t ensure the safety of the Syrian civilians. To ensure a smooth transition to the new political systems, the international community should collaborate with organizations such as The International Center of Transitional Justice, which would hold Assad accountable through amnesty hearings. The International Rescue Committee would also participate by providing humanitarian relief for Syrian refugees settling in camps.
Ultimately, international community must care about the future of families halfway across the world. We cannot continue to have more children dying like Kurdni. The international community must decide whether it will end seven years of warfare as saviors or destroyers.