As the situation in Syria escalates, international diplomats have to decide what to do. Indeed, Syria was discussed in depth at the recent G8 summit. Apart from showing the deeper divides between the US and Russia on this matter, it seems that little was actually decided as regards a response to the ongoing civil war.
As the fighting in Syria continues, bringing more devastation and human suffering, at some stage the international community has to take action. The difficult question here is what realistically can be done? As several nations are considering a more muscular and military response, will entering the conflict actually do any good? There is also the concern that President Assad might use chemical weapons- the international community has to decide how to act if that happens.
In deciding and implementing a response, history is full of case studies and examples that a diplomat considering this matter should look at. The first and major lesson is quite clear: appeasement does not work. Giving in to dictators or authoritarian regimes in the hope that they will be satisfied, and stop being a nuisance quite simply does not work. Munich 1938 is a very good example of this; the agreement signed between Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain quite simple had little value. Diplomats and international government officials should never concede any ground when dealing with such regimes.
Leading on from that, history shows that negotiations, peace treaties, diplomatic agreements and such niceties will only both sides so far, as the Abyssinia Crisis of 1936 shows. It is perfectly possible to arrive at a diplomatic solution that is acceptable to both sides, and end the crisis there. Such a solution is to be strived towards, as it is morally the best outcome for both sides. Unfortunately, such a resolution is relatively rare. If negotiations show no signs of working- then diplomats should be prepared to consider alternative and tougher measures (such as Margaret Thatcher’s decisive and bold stance over the Falklands). Negotiations will only get so much progress- often, dictators will only respond to threats or tough measures, and will carry on unmoved by polite diplomatic rhetoric, or endless rounds of conferences. Diplomats and politicians should enter discussion hopefully- but be prepared to apply tougher measures if those talks break down. The stalemate between Iran, the US and the West perfectly illustrates this; the last few decades have been punctuated by talks, hopeful diplomacy, and aggression and threats when such diplomacy has broken down.
Worse than making the wrong decision, or making the wrong move, is doing nothing at all. This allows the situation to escalate, unchecked, and gives rogue dictators a sense of security and arrogance. They get the impression that it is okay to continue their oppression, their fighting, even their genocides, as the international community is standing by idly and doing nothing. In a sense, they have got away with it. In an international community that champions human rights and decency, to accidentally give that impression by a non- interventionist approach is morally wrong. Even if unwilling to use force, action of whatever sorts (be it sanctions, statements, UN resolutions, etc) must be taken by the international community. In this instance, a policy of doing nothing is the worst possible response- and actually can cause more harm than good by allowing rogue regimes to flourish unchecked or un-criticised.
If, however, a nation or coalition decides, upon considering the facts, that the only possible response is a military response, make that decision carefully. Before sending in the army, be prepared for a long and bloody war. This is especially so in the case of guerrilla warfare or civil wars; essentially, where the sides and participants are not so certain. As history shows, fighting in those arenas can be particularly bloody, and also very protracted (Northern Ireland being a good case in point here).
Above all, if history has taught politicians and diplomats anything- consider the endgame. Before even committing troops, consider how and when a likely troop withdrawal will occur- and the consequences. Consider that reconstruction will be necessary- especially after a brutal war. After the CIA funded campaign which saw the the USSR leave Afghanistan, nothing was done to rebuild the country. Having successfully and covertly overthrown the Soviet forces, the good was undone by a failure to consider the endgame, and set in motion plans to effect reconstruction.
Education and rebuilding the morale and hopes of a nation will be essential; if not now, in 30 years time when those children who lived in fear during war will be business, social, and political leaders. Infrastructure might have to be repaired, cities might have to be rebuilt. The reconstruction and the endgame will be as daunting, problematical and demanding as the war and fighting itself. During the war, it is essential to build and strengthen long term relationships with local, social, and business leaders; their support will be invaluable during the long endgame. Additionally, the endgame could last for many years- so even before inviting battles plans from senior military chiefs, seek the advise of foreign affairs and economic advisers as to the reconstruction and what happens after the fighting.
History is full of examples, from classical Rome to the Cold War, of lessons in international relations and diplomacy. History shows what has worked, and what doesn’t. History also shows, with monotonous regularity, that leaders often don’t learn from history.
However, it seems that, by mixture of international condemnation of Syria, the determination to intervene, mixed with uncertainty as to the best way to intervene, and the reluctance to commit troops, international diplomats have finally learned the lessons of history. Only time will tell, as tougher measures are discussed, to what extent those lessons have been learned.