Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Written guarantees

Image from Homs, Syria, courtesy cbc.ca/news
According to news reports from the last couple of days, the Syrian government has  ignored the deadline for ceasefire negotiated by Kofi Annan because it wants written guarantees from rebels, among other “last-minute” additional demands.

The rebels have defied that demand, and the fighting continues, rockets and mortars in refugee camps, even beyond Syria’s borders, into Turkey and Lebanon.

When do you ask for a written guarantee? When buying a product with a long lifespan, like a car or a roof, I suppose; for services like repairs. Sometimes, it’s silly—”This product I invented will keep your house smelling better—I guarantee it!”

But it doesn’t come up all that often in war.

What is a written guarantee, anyway? It’s a sign that the two sides in a negotiation or conflict don’t trust each other. What they’re saying is “When you break this agreement, I’ll have proof that you promised something that you did not deliver.”

The thing is, enforcing a written guarantee requires an independent third party that both sides respect. That’s missing in Syria, despite the efforts of the UN and the Arab League.

I have to ask, what is the Syrian government really saying? What’s the point of written guarantees? Is the Syrian government planning to sue the rebel leaders who don’t stop shooting?

The continued fighting shows that neither side wants to stop fighting. The Syrian government obviously thinks it will get more from its continued aggression than from any negotiation; and the rebels at least believed that they had nothing to gain from signing a guarantee. It’s hard to see why they wouldn’t, though—what could they lose?

The sad truth is that both sides in this conflict still believe that they stand to benefit more through continued warfare, rather than through negotiations.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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