Nothing undermines or parodies the condition of global politics quite like the way the ‘international community’ reacts arbitrarily to humanitarian crises. Most people are aware of the spurious attitude that dictates the way in which leading western countries address international emergencies. Everything comes down to how much a given country is, or is not, worth to others politically and strategically. Yet the way in which the West has engaged with events in the Middle East over the last year really is outstanding.
To sum up a very complex situation briefly, here is the Libyan example. In 2011, western governments, including the UK’s, were initially extremely reluctant to support Libyan freedom fighters, rhetorically or practically, despite well-documented state perpetrated violence against innocents, for fear of the damage that a stand against the Gaddafi regime would do to oil supplies were the regime to survive. In a timely about turn, NATO began to support the rebels, realising that a free, democratic nation might be more compliant as an economic partner. What, of course, might have happened if the rebels had not looked likely to win? Gaddafi would still be a favourite, if feisty, wheeling dealing oil broker to Western governments.
International rhetoric is awash with outrage against human rights violations and condemnation of authoritarianism, but only puts its money where its mouth is if the payoffs are guaranteed. Such dismal gameplay is made vastly more harmful and degenerate because none of these countries agree on how to manipulate others for their own purposes. Thus, here we have again a situation with Syria, as with Libya, in which Russia has inhibited attempts by the UN Security Council to persuade the Assad regime to lessen the state crackdown on civilians and allow humanitarian assistance into the country. This has occurred essentially because Russia has a naval port in Syria and enjoys a great profit from its arms trade to the Assad regime. Superficially, the Russian government is in opposition, on ‘principle’, to external interference in another country’s internal politics. In a sense the Russians can’t be blamed, they are only abiding by the tit-for-tat tactics that define twentieth century international relations.
The approach to Syria from the ‘international community’ is purely political, monotonously so. A perpetual cycle of wrangling, so far removed from the reality of the subject being wrangled, repeatedly directs the course of war, famine, atrocity. In Syria, the only international group that seems remotely close to assisting real people, injured, dying, hungry, thirsty, displaced and distressed; is the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been plugging away for weeks now at different means to access the Syrians trapped in attacked enclaves. Of course, it is necessary to uphold a set of international rules which prohibit countries from interfering in others’ national affairs spontaneously; it should also be obvious that the delivery of humanitarian assistance should not be governed by the advantages and disadvantages that this might result in for the assisting countries.
Unfortunately the only real global ‘community’ that we can count on is the one in which we as individuals care for others. Our governments have other things on their minds – strategic defence, trade and economics, diplomatic relations – not wanting to ‘rock the boat’. In no way am I implying that all politicians are heartless, inanimate monsters… indifferent to murder and violence. But they have other things on their minds, journalism and our individual response to media, provokes, elicits and sustains governments’ reactions to atrocity.
It is both hugely tragic and tragically opportune that journalists reporting from within Syria have been so vocal in describing their experiences – and that those descriptions have reached us with steady, front page frequency. They have simple requests: medical attention, a few hours of amnesty to allow civilians caught in the crossfire to escape, transport to cross the border, food and sanitary assistance. It seems that the simplicity of humanitarian aid is often lost in the professional dramatics of international law and diplomacy – the story of the International Committee of the Red Cross is testament to the quiet, measured persistence it takes to permeate this furore. As individuals, the best we can do is keep reading, watching, listening, understanding, asking, reminding, and thinking. We would consider it strange if a man was left dying in the road after a car accident because the local council could not decide how to transport the paramedic to the scene, how to communicate with the car driver and the victim, or what kind of equipment to use in resuscitation – as a community we expect those things to be clear. If anything like an ‘international community’ really exists then it is in an awareness of our common counterparts elsewhere in the world – and the onus on our governments to react to our common humanity.Cartoon Movement