International community: privacy please, do not disturb

International community: privacy please, do not disturb

Last weekend Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan severely criticized the international community for failing to respond to the Syria crisis. He said it was high time to consider a structural change in international institutions. He was charitable. It’s high time to question if anything remains of the international community.

The other day I came across the term ‘Friends of Syria’ and felt like trying to remember an old friend. The group was initiated in late February 2012 by the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy and their last meeting took place in July. No idea what has happened with them since then.

Then there was the Annan Plan, also launched in February 2012. Kofi Annan, as the UN-Arab League Special Envoy, was so optimistic that he even flew to Moscow to secure Russian support for his efforts. After he threw in the towel in August, he was replaced by Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat. Before meeting Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu this weekend, Brahimi had talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. His spokesman said that they agreed ‘on the dire need to stop the bloodshed.’ All this sounds like a Syria 101 class.

The ‘Islamic Quartet,’ which consists of Egypt, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia has also fallen apart after Saudi Arabia failed to attend the Quartet’s first and last meeting in Cairo in September. That one must have been the most self-contradicting initiative in history, trying to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran to a table for four. The United Nations and NATO, on the other hand, have been more than just inactive since the beginning of the crisis. It was revealed once again (and hopefully for the last time) that the UN is hopelessly deadlocked due to the veto power of the Security Council.

Likewise, the United States has only supported sanctions and released strongly worded statements so far. This is partly due to the approaching US elections. However, timing is not the main issue. The experience in Iraq and Afghanistan delivered nothing but lessons for the West, the main one being “Pottery Barn Rule:” You break it, you own it. Just as retail stores hold a customer responsible for damage done to the goods on display. No one wants to enter that retail store anymore. And the EU, on top of it, is busy giving its own existential struggle, moving its capital from Brussels to Berlin.

Russia, China and Iran have been the scapegoats for blocking international engagement. However, it is the whole international community that is completely incapable of responding to new challenges and therefore responsible for the current inertia. The international community is supposed to be more than the sum of its parts, the mere collection of states. Today we are mutually dependent more than ever before. Yet, we have lost completely the sense of being part of an international community. It is this essential absence that causes the current tragic condition of international law and institutions. In a globalizing world this absence is a fatal defect. We’ve witnessed proof of that today in Syria.

The international community should take down its ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign from its door and urgently hang a ‘Housekeeping needed’ sign.