Tom Tugendhat retired from the British Army after serving on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently as military assistant to the Chief of the Defence Staff. He is the PPC for Tonbridge and Malling.
The Syrian Civil War is all about Syrians. That’s the thing about civil wars, they tend to be pretty domestic affairs. It is true, of course, that weapons, money and some fighters will come from outside. It is also true that the spill-over will affect other countries. Some even far away.
It is also true that other issues get drawn in: Sunni, Shia; urban, rural; even regional power games. But the essential point about Civil Wars is that they are fundamentally about the home team.
Somehow, Ban Ki-moon seems not to have grasped that.
His guest-list for the talks in Geneva is impressive, though what role Brazil and Indonesia really have is somewhat open to question. Sure, the only Arab to have been head of state of a non-Arab country achieved that distinction in South America. But that was in Argentina and there’s no evidence that Carlos Menem’s success is likely to be imitated anytime soon.
And Jakarta may be the capital of the most populous Muslim country in the world, but the bonds of the umma are not obvious in their successful resolution of the problem. In fact, if you look at who is fuelling the fire in Damascus, it would seem like the main source of funding is the oil wells of faithful.
We shouldn’t be surprised about any of this. The Syrian conflict matters to many, particularly those in the region for whom it gives the space for a proxy battle. Saudi Arabia and Iran, long rivals across the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf if you sit in Riyadh) are using the conflagration to knock pieces off each other while others watch and wonder how long it can go on.
But none of this means that either side, or indeed any side outside Syria, can force a settlement and end the violence.
For some it is because they have no interest in it. Some countries are using their support for one faction or another to boost their regional image. Others are using it to demonstrate their support for another funding power. Others still are using the moment to buy influence with those they think will come out of this the winner.
Some, no doubt, will have noble reasons to defend the interests of the people of Aleppo, Homs and Hama but who they are isn’t immediately obvious.
So the answer for Geneva is not to invite more people to Geneva Conference. Indeed removing Iran from the list was the one thing that the UN Secretary General has done right. But he should go further.
Like other successful peace talks – Bonn in 2002 – the only people sat in the room should be all of one nation with only the UN to act as facilitators. Everyone else, all 30 outsiders, should wait in the lobby. I know this will annoy the Russian and American negotiators but if they really want to help the Syrian people find a resolution they will leave the UN to do the talking and do what we should have done from the start: persuade others to leave them alone.