Anne Allmeling: Why Syria’s Bashar Al Assad is not afraid


Syrian president Bashar Al Assad should have been worried when British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for the United Nations Security Council to make a “clear statement” on Syria on Sunday. The British politician wants the Council to proceed with a resolution condemning the crackdown by Syrian government forces.

But Mr. Assad does not seem to worry at all. Syria itself is a member of the 192-state United Nations (UN), but the Syrian president does not even find it necessary to answer phone calls from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. According to UN officials, Mr. Assad has been refusing to take telephone calls from Mr. Ban. So why does he not care about the world body? And why does he not seem to be afraid of foreign intervention?

There are several reasons. First, Russia and China have opposed the resolution, and Mr. Assad knows that the Security Council needs both Russia’s and China’s votes to condemn his crackdown – or at least an abstention. But there is not a lot the Syrian president has to fear from the UN, anyway. After all, both Russia and China are opposed in principle to getting involved in the internal affairs of another sovereign nation.

Russia and Syria have strong ties, and the Russian deputy UN ambassador Alexander Pankin insisted last month that the Syrian crackdown did not amount to a threat to international peace and security. On the contrary: “A real threat to regional security could come from outside interference,” he said.

The chances of outside interference, however, are low. With the UN already being involved in military action against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces, Mr. Assad knows that an intervention is not likely to happen in Syria. The fighting in Libya is still ongoing, and the UN does not have a clear exit strategy.

Compared with Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, Syria’s army is regarded as much more powerful. What is more, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Italian news agency Ansa on May 20 that the military alliance has ruled out an intervention in Syria. “NATO has no intention of intervening in Syria,” he said. “There is an obvious difference between Syria and Libya. In Libya, NATO operates on the basis of a UN mandate and receives great support from the region. Neither of these conditions are met in Syria.”

While the 22-member Arab League suspended Libya and called on the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone the country, it has remained silent on the subject of Syria’s uprising. One reason might be that with neighboring countries such as Israel, Lebanon and Iraq, Syria’s regional role is much more complex than Libya’s. In addition, Mr. Assad used to be much more popular among Arab leaders than his Libyan counterpart, and Western politicians used to regard Mr. Assad as one of the key figures for the peace process. During the past few years, several states intensified their diplomatic relationships with Syria. It was only in December 2010 that the United States re-opened its embassy in Damascus.

However, even if the Arab League asked the international community to stop the crackdown in Syria, it is not likely that the United Nations would respond. The US, a veto member of the UN Security Council, was not exactly enthusiastic about the intervention in Libya and may be even less so when it comes to Syria. After all, its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are anything but completed. And a conflict with Syria is very likely to become a conflict with Iran, too – one of Syria’s closest allies and America’s biggest enemies. As long as he has friends in Iran, China and Russia, Mr. Assad does not have worry about phone calls from New York.

(Anne Allmeling, a contributor to Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: [email protected])