A Vital Humanitarian Mandate for Syria’s North West
A Vital Humanitarian Mandate for Syria’s North West

叙利亚声明

假设美国国会同意授权对叙利亚动武,华盛顿方面(及其部分盟友)将会很快对叙政权的特定目标实施军事打击。如果上述情况成为现实,美国采取这次军事行动的原因会在很大程度上偏离其出于叙人民利益的考量。美国政府认为必需惩罚、制止和防止使用化学武器——这个目标无可厚非,但是在冲突期间,叙人民饱受更加致命的大规模暴行之苦,而国际社会对此却没有采取联合行动。此外,考虑到奥巴马总统曾宣布反对使用化武的“红线”,美国政府指出有必要维护华盛顿的信誉——这个目的也是可以理解的,但不太可能引起叙人民的共鸣。,抛开愤怒、威慑和恢复美国的信誉不谈,叙人民的福祉才是首要考量标准。而这个目标的达成并不取决于是否采取军事打击,而是通过实现持续停火,并进行为大多数人所接受的政治过渡。

无论美国军事打击的范围如何,也不管为精细校准打击付诸了多大的努力,想要提前准确估计军事打击的后果显然是徒劳之举。在一场已经走入死胡同的常规冲突中——同时也是在一个毗邻热点地区的国家,军事打击无可避免会带来极大的不确定因素。几乎可以肯定的是,军事打击的后果将不可估量。即使如此,我们对于军事打击可能会造成的后果以及可能不会造成的后果有如下几点看法:

  • 军事打击不会也不可能会获得哪怕是最小程度的国际社会的共识;从这个意义上来说,试图找出叙政府使用了化武的确凿证据的努力也是徒劳的,无论这种努力多么有必要。鉴于2003年美国在入侵伊拉克问题上所使用的错误借口,并且自那以后,地区和国际的两极分化加之叙利亚冲突本身的动态变化,使得美国提出的对叙动武的理由将不足以说服持怀疑态度的人们,越来越多人将会对此抱持怀疑态度。
  • 军事打击预示着如果再次使用化武,可能会招致更严厉的惩罚,这种预示作用可能会阻碍未来再次使用化武——这是军事打击本身可以也必须能实现的一个重要作用。但是,如果叙政权认为其是为了自身的生存而战,上述考虑可能不会造成多大影响。反对派中的某些组成部分也可能会忍不住使用化武,然后把责任算在叙政府头上,目的就是要激起美国的进一步干预。
  • 军事打击可能会在叙国内引发暴力活动的进一步升级,因为叙政府有可能会对叛军及其控制地区实施报复,而反对派则寻求机会获取优势。
  • 可能会出现地区或国际事件的重大升级(如叙政府、伊朗或真主党所采取的主要针对以色列的报复行动),有鉴于其中的风险之高,或许上述可能性不会发生,但这要取决于军事打击的范围。
  • 军事行动可能不会长久地影响基本的力量平衡——美国称,军事行动的目的不在于推翻叙政权。叙政权甚至可能会赢得一场宣传战,宣称其对美国进行了坚决抵抗,把国内和地区内的舆论都导向歌唱反西方、反帝国主义的颂歌上。

最终,关于可能发生的军事打击的关键问题在于是否能在军事打击之后再次积极进行解决冲突的外交努力。知情者打赌不会再有这种外交努力:叙政权及其盟友认为军事打击不合法也不合理,在军事打击之后他们不会有心情与美国进行谈判。仔细校准打击目标,使其既足以让叙政权和盟友改变想法,又不至于引起报复行为或阻碍外交行动,这种想法理论上看很诱人,实际上几乎不可行。

不管是否选择进行军事打击,美国有义务尽最大可能在外交上实现突破。这需要双重努力,而这正是目前所缺乏的:一方面要提出一个现实可行的政治妥协方案,另一方面要真诚地以一种能引起他们兴趣的方式同俄罗斯和伊朗两国进行接触——而不是支持一场持久的冲突,这场冲突似乎有一种无穷升级的能力。

本着这种精神,美国应该提出一个解决方案——叙利亚的盟友们也应该认真积极地考虑这个方案,方案要基于以下几个方面:

  1. 战争的结束势在必行。战争的持续不可避免地会造成冲突的升级、地区的不稳定以及国际社会的牵连其中,这有百害而无一利;
  2. 唯一的出路来自政治层面。这要求各方作出广泛的让步并降低要求。唯一可行的结果是达成维护叙所有选民利益的妥协方案,反映而非改变地区的战略平衡;
  3. 叙利亚危机提供了一个重要机会,以此检验美国和伊朗伊斯兰共和国在地区问题上能够合作,恢复地区稳定;
  4. 叙现任政权如果继续执政,那么不可能在叙国内达成一个可行的政治结果。但是,除此以外,美国在达成政治结果的时机和特定形态方面会具有灵活性。
  5. 美国渴望避免叙政体的坍塌及随之造成的政治真空,因此目标应该是进行建立在既有组织机构基础上的过渡,而非取而代之,这一点尤其在涉及到军队方面时是很正确的;
  6. 在协商达成一致方案的情况下,必须优先保证叙社会的各个方面都不会成为报复行动、歧视或者边缘化的目标。

上述方案应该随后成为联合国-阿拉伯联盟联合特使拉赫达尔·卜拉希米重新进行外交努力的基础,并促使尽快召开第二次日内瓦会议。

讨论一个可能的军事打击——这个决定是否明智,打击的优先程度,以及在未获准联合国安理会同意的情况下该决定的合法性——让人难以理解,也偏离了国际社会最应当关注的当务之急,那就是:如何重启寻求政治解决途径的努力。而对任何计划中的军事行动的判断基础,撇开关于其合法性的讨论不谈,应当是其究竟推动还是延迟了上述努力。

布鲁塞尔

Workers carry boxes of humanitarian aid near Bab al-Hawa crossing at the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib governorate, Syria, June 30, 2021. Picture taken June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

A Vital Humanitarian Mandate for Syria’s North West

The UN Security Council is considering renewing an understanding whereby UN agencies transport aid to Idlib, an area held by Syrian rebels. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Richard Gowan, Dareen Khalifa and Ashish Pradhan explain why the arrangement remains essential.

What is at stake in the Security Council?

The UN Security Council is set to vote soon on the renewal of a mandate that allows UN agencies to deliver aid to rebel-held Idlib in north-western Syria via a border crossing with Türkiye without asking for approval from the government in Damascus. The UN calculates that nearly two and a half million people rely on this lifeline for food and other essential supplies. Yet the arrangement is contentious. Since 2019, Russia, the Syrian regime’s ally, has aimed to curtail the mandate, arguing that the UN should work with Damascus on aid deliveries out of respect for Syria’s sovereignty.

In 2021, the U.S. made a concerted effort to convince Moscow to help keep the mandate alive, but it has made no similar push in 2022, as the two powers’ relations have collapsed over Russia’s war in Ukraine. Senior UN officials worry that Russia may veto the mandate – which should be renewed by 10 July – causing a dramatic drop in humanitarian assistance to Idlib and potentially leading to an influx of refugees into Türkiye. What happens with the mandate is a concern for the UN and, more importantly, for the people in Idlib.

The Security Council first authorised the UN to deliver cross-border aid to opposition-controlled areas of Syria without Damascus’s approval in 2014. At first, this mandate covered four crossing points, giving UN agencies access to southern and north-eastern Syria as well as the north west. The Council members’ cooperation on humanitarian issues despite their broader rifts over the war in Syria was a rare bright spot in UN diplomacy. But in rancorous debates in late 2019 and mid-2020, during which Russia and China used their vetoes three times to block resolutions renewing the mandate, Moscow succeeded in limiting the UN’s cross-border operations to a single crossing, at Bab al-Hawa between Türkiye and Idlib. Russia also made clear that the mandate could not be renewed indefinitely.

In 2021, the Biden administration identified maintaining aid to Idlib as an area for better relations with Russia. U.S. officials negotiated over the mandate’s future bilaterally with their Russian counterparts in Vienna and Geneva. While the official U.S. position was that the Council should reauthorise opening all four original crossings – an outcome few UN officials and diplomats thought likely – Russia assented that July only to keeping Bab al-Hawa open. Moscow also demanded that the UN work harder on channelling aid into Idlib from government-held Syrian territory (which is referred to as “cross-line” aid, as opposed to cross-border from Türkiye) and called for greater international funding for “early recovery” projects in government-controlled parts of Syria. Finally, Russia insisted that the UN Secretary-General report on cross-line aid halfway through the mandate period in January 2022, indicating that it might try to block the mandate’s continuation at that point (though it did not act on this threat). Despite these caveats, the Biden administration presented the fact that Russia was willing to keep the mandate alive at all – and the absence of public rows and vetoes at the UN like those in 2019 and 2020 – as proof that the U.S. could do business with the Kremlin.

Security Council members [fret] that Russian and Western diplomats would fail to reach an agreement on the future of aid to Syria.

A year on, that optimism looks like a thing of the past. Since Russia’s assault on Ukraine in February and the sharp deterioration in Moscow’s relations with Western powers, Security Council members have fretted that Russian and Western diplomats would fail to reach an agreement on the future of aid to Syria. As things stand, the mandate’s fate remains unclear with less than a week to go before the deadline for its renewal.

Ireland and Norway, the Security Council’s two elected members acting as “penholders” (diplomatic leads) on the issue, introduced a draft resolution renewing the authorisation for aid deliveries through Bab al-Hawa for twelve months on 27 June. Russia has yet to make a definitive response, and Council members expect that there may be intense wrangling over the text before the vote. The outcome will have a major effect on the lives of civilians in Idlib. It is also a crucial test of how far Russia and the West can continue to work together at the Security Council – however grudgingly – as the war in Ukraine rages and their policies become ever more hostile to one another.

How important is the mandate for Idlib and are there alternatives?

Despite the high level of tension in the Security Council over cross-border aid, this mandate has given the UN essential political backing to guide humanitarian operations in Idlib. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in particular has played a pivotal role in cross-border aid delivery. The Council mandate allowed OCHA to coordinate donor response, lead negotiations with local authorities, and guarantee a significant degree of transparency for aid delivered into these rebel-held areas. OCHA has also helped NGOs involved in relief work navigate the legal and political hurdles of operating in an area under the control of Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Islamist militia running most of Idlib. HTS is UN-sanctioned and is listed by Russia, the U.S. and Türkiye as a terrorist organisation.

The UN has additionally led negotiations involving Damascus and the HTS-backed Salvation Government that administers Idlib over the balance between cross-border and cross-line aid operations. The Syrian government and Russia insist that the UN ramp up cross-line assistance as an alternative to channelling aid through Bab al-Hawa, as part of their effort to reinstate Damascus’s influence over aid delivery to all of Syria. UN officials and Western diplomats are sceptical that this proposal is realistic, especially given the Syrian regime’s track record of blocking aid to punish civilians in opposition-held areas and the hostility of its rhetoric toward Idlib and its residents. From a technical point of view, cross-border aid remains the cheapest, quickest and most reliable way to meet Idlib’s needs. A report from the UN Secretary-General in June stated that UN humanitarian monitors counted some 1,686 trucks carrying supplies (four fifths of them bearing food) from Türkiye into Idlib in April and May alone. By contrast, the report noted that the UN had overseen just five cross-line convoys between July 2021 and June 2022, and highlighted one in May that involved just fourteen trucks.

The U.S. and its allies have agreed that the UN should also experiment with cross-line aid ... into Idlib.

Nonetheless, the U.S. and its allies have agreed that the UN should also experiment with cross-line aid, mainly as a political concession to Russia and in hope of retaining Moscow’s acquiescence to cross-border operations. In 2021, the Security Council agreed to “encourage efforts to improve cross-line deliveries of humanitarian assistance” from government-controlled areas into Idlib. Moscow complains that the resolution has not been fully respected, as cross-line deliveries to Idlib have remained irregular, while HTS (and civil society groups in Idlib) as well as many humanitarian agency employees describe these efforts as a sop to the Kremlin rather than serious aid.

This debate has also become highly contentious for local forces in Idlib. HTS and the Salvation Government have reluctantly agreed to some of the cross-line aid deliveries, providing them with security and allowing for safe distribution. Yet HTS has come under fierce criticism from parts of the population and rivals in Syria’s opposition for thus “collaborating” with a regime that has killed thousands and displaced millions of Syrians. In private, HTS members express concern that the cross-line mechanism is a quandary for them: if they cooperate, they are criticised locally; if they don’t, they will be condemned internationally; and in neither situation can cross-line aid address even a fraction of humanitarian needs in Idlib. For the time being, HTS has found it prudent to facilitate the safe passage of several cross-line aid convoys to avoid giving Moscow a pretext to put a halt to the UN’s cross-border mandate and to strengthen Türkiye’s hand in negotiating with Russia. According to HTS, it would be much harder for them to cooperate on cross-line aid if Moscow were to veto the cross-border mandate’s renewal.

What would a Russian veto mean?

If Russia does veto renewal of the cross-border aid mandate, the immediate fallout could be chaotic. It is not clear whether OCHA would have to abruptly end its Syria operations in Türkiye or whether it could continue to play a minimal coordination function during a transitional phase. Regardless, the absence of OCHA’s irreplaceable aid infrastructure and cross-border mandate would significantly reduce the volume of aid and the efficiency of the donor response. It would also leave NGOs and donors struggling to manage aid coordination and oversight, while reducing their leverage in dealing with authorities in Türkiye and Idlib. UN officials estimate that NGOs could supply at best 30 to 40 per cent of the aid that the UN has been providing. In practice that means hunger will increase, medical cases will go untreated, and millions will be at risk of losing shelter and assistance.

Crisis Group’s interlocutors in Idlib agree that the aid flow’s disruption could lead many of the region’s inhabitants – many of whom fled other parts of Syria earlier in the war – to attempt to escape the area, mostly by trying to enter Türkiye. How Ankara would respond to chaos at the border remains unclear; already in Türkiye the presence of an estimated 3.7 million Syrian refugees is a source of socio-political tension, which is on the rise due to economic troubles and elections due in June 2023. Although living conditions in Idlib have improved considerably since Moscow and Ankara forged a de facto ceasefire in 2020, the population remains anxious about the precarious situation. “Our lives depend on the mood in the Kremlin every few months. This is inhuman and unsustainable”, an Idlib resident said.

What are the chances the mandate will survive?

In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, Security Council members generally seemed pessimistic about the chances of renewing the mandate for cross-border aid in conversations with Crisis Group. Now, however, some are guardedly optimistic that Moscow will let it survive. It is mostly a matter of speculation. The Russian mission in New York typically has to wait until late in negotiations on this file to get clear instructions from Moscow on how to act. In negotiations on the draft resolution tabled by Ireland and Norway on 27 June extending the mandate, neither Russian nor Chinese diplomats appeared to have definite guidance from their capitals. Western diplomats hope that Moscow will decide that it will retain greater leverage over events in Idlib by agreeing to renew the mandate – which gives it a platform for pushing the UN to work harder at cross-line aid – rather than forcing a crisis.

Western officials hope that Moscow will [refrain from using its veto] on this occasion.

Although Western and Russian diplomats have had toxic relations at the Security Council over Ukraine, Moscow has refrained from using its veto on other resolutions, such as a new mandate for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, that other countries feared it might block. Western officials hope that Moscow will show similar restraint on this occasion, especially as vetoing the resolution would intensify its tensions with Türkiye (Turkish sources, by contrast, insist that they cannot prevent Russia from using its veto, and argue that Ankara should not be expected to fix this problem on behalf of the U.S. and European nations). China may also help moderate Russia’s calculations. During the 2021 negotiations over the Syrian humanitarian mandate, Chinese diplomats told Western counterparts that they did not want a repeat of the public disputes of 2019 and 2020. In 2022, they have emphasised the need to avoid too many blow-ups in the Security Council while the Russian-Ukrainian war continues.

There are different views regarding what Council negotiations will bring. Some Council members speculate that Russia could make last-minute demands – most likely over cross-line aid and funding for recovery – in the coming days. While the Council is slated to vote on mandate renewal on 7 July, it could push the date back, with negotiations perhaps running past the current mandate’s expiry on 10 July. Equally some UN officials guess that Russia will not create this sort of disruption, meaning that the process may end with a quick vote.

What is the longer-term future of cross-border aid to Syria?

It is clear that the best outcome of current UN diplomacy over Syria would be for the Security Council to renew the mandate for cross-border aid for a year. No credible alternative set of arrangements exists for cross-border aid. If Russia does veto the mandate, the fallout would provoke enormous humanitarian suffering, additional displacement and, potentially, political turmoil in and around Idlib. While Moscow has shown scant regard for the disapproval of other Security Council members over its war on Ukraine, it might be wary of straining its relationship with Ankara – and of creating a new crisis for itself in Syria while it is focused on Ukraine.

Nonetheless, Western members of the Council and UN officials need to ready themselves for an end to the cross-border-mandate, either in July or at a later date. The original Council mandate for cross-border aid to Syria in 2014 was based on the assumption that rebel-controlled enclaves around the country were temporary phenomena, and the mandate as well. For now, it appears more likely that the Syrian conflict is moving into an extended stalemate with no clear military or political resolution on the horizon. Areas of northern Syria where millions of displaced Syrians live might remain outside government control – and in need of significant external aid – for some time to come. There is no guarantee that the Security Council will continue to renew the authorisation for cross-border aid indefinitely.

Donors, the UN and NGOs already have plans for the eventuality that the cross-border arrangements end. One option – even if the mandate is renewed – may be for OCHA to gradually wind down its delivery operations while continuing to play a smaller coordination role and helping build up the capacity of NGOs to supply aid to Idlib in place of UN agencies. In this case, a future Russian veto would do less damage to aid supplies than it would do today. For the time being, however, it is essential that the Security Council renew the mandate for cross-border aid to avoid a fresh humanitarian disaster in north-western Syria.

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