Inside Story America

Has Syria become the UN’s proxy battlefield?

Following Kofi Annan’s resignation we ask if the UN is engaged in a hegemonic power struggle over the Syrian conflict.

“I do not intend to continue my mission when my mandate expires at the end of August,” Kofi Annan said when announcing his resignation as the UN-Arab League peace envoy for Syria on Thursday.

While it was no secret that the former UN secretary-general was frustrated at his failure to implement a six-point peace plan in Syria, we are told that his announcement on Thursday took the international community by surprise.

It is fair for Annan to say that international disunity has undermined his mission. The Security Council has been unable to agree on clear measures against the regime, for instance a military embargo…and that has given succour to the Assad regime.”

– Carne Ross, the founder of Independent Diplomat

Clearly, the prospects for a negotiated end to the violence look grim. Annan blames his decision on what he described as Syrian government intransigence, and the opposition’s escalating military campaign.

But he was particularly critical of what he called the failure of a divided international community.

Speaking in Geneva, Annan said: “At a time when we need, when the Syrian people desperately need action, there continues to be finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council. The Geneva communique, endorsed by the Action Group for Syria on 30 June, provided an international agreement on a framework for political transition. This should have been automatically endorsed by Security Council and something the international community should have built on.”

After he resigned, Annan wrote an op-ed for the Financial Times saying that multiple players were responsible for the failure of diplomacy in Syria, and made it clear that al-Assad is not solely responsible for peace in the region.

Speaking to Al Jazeera just before Annan’s announcement, John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, when asked if he would advice Mitt Romney, the Republican US presidential candidate, to support Syrian rebels, said:

Annan’s efforts were undermined primarily by the US…and to some degree he undermined himself [by] buying into the argument that you should stipulate at the outset that President Assad needed to go, which meant that there couldn’t really be a serious political process.”

– Flynt Leverett, a professor at Penn State University

“I don’t think we have an adequate grasp who the opposition really is, I think it remains disorganised. I think there’s certainly pro-western pro-democratic elements but there are terrorist and jihadist elements as well. I’m very concerned that if we gave particularly lethal assistance to the opposition that we couldn’t control what happened to it and that there is a risk if Assad falls of a bloodbath against the Alawite Christian and Druze communities in Syria.”

In another development, it has emerged that Barack Obama, the US president, has secretly authorised US support for the Free Syrian Army, according to reports by Reuters news agency citing US sources.

This is thought to include clandestine CIA backup. But the White House is maintaining its public position that arming the rebels is not a solution.

The uprising against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, began 17 months ago, and has now turned into a bloody civil war.

Inside Story Americas asks: What does Kofi Annan’s resignation say about the international community’s approach toward Syria?

Joining presenter Shihab Rattansi for the discussion are guests: Flynt Leverett, a professor of international relations at Penn State University and a former White House official under George Bush; Carne Ross, a British diplomat at the UN Security Council until he resigned over the Iraq war and founded Independent Diplomat, an advisory group; and Michele Dunne, a former White House National Security Council staff and a former diplomat who is now a director at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“It is true that outside parties…bring their own interest to the table when it comes to formulating their approach to what is essentially an internal Syrian conflict…unfortunately the fact that it [remains] unresolved opens the country to more and more external influence.”

Michele Dunne, a director at the Atlantic Council


  • The conflict began with the crackdown on demonstrators in March 2011. Most observers say Syria is embroiled in civil war.
  • Syrian rebels have been calling for President Bashar al-Assad to resign.
  • The UN Security Council has condemned the government’s use of heavy weapons on civilians.
  • China and Russia have blocked Security Council resolutions to stop the violence in Syria.
  • Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled to neighbouring countries.
  • The Syrian opposition says thousands have been killed by government forces.
  • Four of al-Assad’s close aides were killed in attacks in Damascus in July, including his brother-in-law and the defence minister.
  • Syrian Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas defected to Paris in July.