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NATO and the UN must decide if they are standing by, or simply bystanders

A convoy of 300 Turkish Armed Forces' armoured vehicles including personnel carriers, are seen on their way to Syrian border to support the military units deployed at the border, on February 10, 2020, in Hatay, Turkey [Burak Milli / Anadolu Agency]
A convoy of 300 Turkish Armed Forces' armoured vehicles including personnel carriers, are seen on their way to Syrian border to support the military units deployed at the border, on February 10, 2020, in Hatay, Turkey [Burak Milli / Anadolu Agency]

Tensions have risen rapidly in north-west Syria following the killing of yet another Turkish soldier by Russian-backed regime forces. The Turkish death toll is now heading towards 20 as both President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin find themselves backed into a corner that neither wanted to be in. The refusal of either strong man to back down now means that innocent Syrians and fighters on all sides face the prospect of a bloodbath.

What’s more, it’s no use for the UN to be calling weakly for a ceasefire; such things only exist on paper in the Middle East these days, and barely last longer than it takes for the ink to dry.

NATO has issued several reminders – if any were really needed – that Turkey is a significant member of the alliance. And the US is focussed on Ankara’s reaction as reports of more Turkish troops being killed come in.

“We send condolences to the Turkish government on the death of these soldiers,” a US State Department spokeswoman told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity. “These attacks have now killed multiple Turkish personnel. We stand by our NATO Ally Turkey against these actions.”

Well, I’m sorry, but both NATO and the US appear to be confused over the term “standing by”. Both appear to prefer to be simply bystanders doing nothing. If they were really “standing by” Turkey, they would be poised to act in one way or another.

Read: Turkey requests US air support as fighting heats up in Idlib

Meanwhile the massive civilian exodus in a civil war that has killed upwards of half a million Syrians, displaced millions more and left huge swathes of the country in ruins, continues unabated.

The UN should have realised years ago that a peaceful settlement cannot be reached with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad still in power. Could a peace deal have been thrashed out with Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich at any stage during the Second World War? That is the equivalent magnitude of the task which the UN thinks is a real possibility.

Erdogan is due to meet Putin and German chancellor Angela Merkel next month to discuss the situation in Idlib. The meeting should be brought forward as a matter of urgency; to this week, preferably Monday or Tuesday.

Realistically, Turkey – which already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees – has reached saturation point and around a million displaced people barely surviving in horrific conditions are unlikely to remain passive for very long. The UN and the rest of the international community have sat idle for long enough. Ceasefires do not and have not worked and the opportunity for a diplomatic solution has long gone. Decisive action is needed.

If any UN members have the nerve to shout, “What has this got to do with us?” here’s a gentle hint: the illegal and devastating US-led invasion of Iraq back in 2003. Actions have consequences and the roots of today’s conflict are tangled up with the invasion and its aftermath, the effects of which are being felt way beyond the Iraqi borders. What is happening in Syria today has everything to do with the West and the UN. Their leaders need to own up, accept responsibility, and then do something positive to help the people of Syria, mere bystanders no longer.

Read: NATO has no plans to support Turkey in Syria

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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