Why Did Kofi Annan Fail?

Only one thing is certain in Syria following the resignation of U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan: It will be impossible to find a more seasoned diplomat to fix the mess it's in.

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Only one thing is certain in Syria following the resignation of U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan: It will be impossible to find a more seasoned diplomat to fix the mess it's in. The 74-year-old former U.N. secretary-general and Nobel Peace Prize winner received unanimous backing at the Security Council for the assignment, but by his own frustrated acknowledgement today, he totally and completely failed at his mission of brining about a ceasefire between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and opposition groups. “I accepted this task ... for I believed it was a sacred duty to do whatever was in my power to help the Syrian people find a peaceful solution to this bloody conflict,” he told reporters at U.N. offices in Geneva. But "without serious, purposeful and united international pressure, including from the powers of the region, it is impossible for me, or anyone, to compel the Syrian government in the first place, and also the opposition, to take the steps necessary to begin a political process." Ever the diplomat, he cast blame widely but in terms vague enough not to disgust the major powers involved in the 17 month conflict. So why did Annan's six-point peace plan, adopted in April, fail so dramatically?

  • It was a failure of logistics Say what you will about the disputing factions in the conflict, The Guardian's Chris Doyle argues that the plan's logistics just didn't add up. "For a few days in April a ceasefire led to a significant decrease in the violence, but it did not last," he writes. "A 300-strong UN observer mission was slow to deploy and too small for a country the size of Syria. If the UN had been serious, there would have been between 3,000 and 5,000 observers backed up by a large team of expert mediators." Of course, the lackluster number of observers can be attributed to the lackluster amount of consensus in the Security Council.
  • It was China, Russia and Iran's fault Popular scapegoats in the aftermath of Annan's resignation have been America's perennial, veto-wielding foes on the Security Council: Russia, China and Iran."The death knell of Annan’s efforts was sounded last month, when Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution on Syria for the third time in the course of the crisis," writes The Christian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi. This is the position of the U.S. government as well, which called the two countries disgusting and complicit in Syria's crimes, via Ambassador Susan Rice. Of course, China, Russia and Iran had their own reasons for vetoing. They slammed Western and Araba states for covertly and overtly arming the rebels, a violation of the peace plan, and argued that forcing Syria to remove its heavy weapons from cities while rebels held entire towns was unreasonable. Clearly, the countries weren't eager to see Syria, which they have economic and military ties to, go the route of Libya despite the piles of bodies adding up in the conflict.
  • Western and Arab states are to blame Analyst Randa Slim predicts a different scapegoat for the failure of the plan. "We all know how #Annan's resignation will be spun in pro-#Syrian regime circles," she tweets. "#West never wanted diplomacy to start with.#Syria." Is there any evidence of that? As Time's Tony Karon writes, the West had very specific ideas in mind when it adopted Annan's peace plan: "as a means of getting international accord — particularly with Russia and China — on the demand that Syrian President Bashar Assad stand down." However, as Karon notes, "Annan’s peace plan didn’t explicitly demand he do so, of course, although U.S. officials insisted for a time that this was the implied meaning of the plan for a cease-fire and political transition to which all sides signed on, and then failed to implement." Furthermore, Karon notes that the America's refusal to allow Iran at the negotiating table also thwarted Annan's efforts to broker a peace breakthrough in a Geneva summit with all the stakeholders present. "The U.S. refused to have Iran, the Assad regime’s most important outside backer, participate in such discussions despite warnings from the Russians, and Annan himself, that excluding them undermined a key premise of the exercise. (Perhaps in an attempt to placate the Russians, Saudi Arabia was also removed from the guest list, which took another key proxy player out of the equation.)" Either way, it should be noted that the Obama administration initially supported the peace plan's goal of demilitarizing the conflict, and White House press secretary Jay Carney vocally defended the policy in press briefings. However, as Arab states such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia showed a willingness to funnel heavy weaponry into the conflict, the U.S. eventually threw up its arms and permitted the exact thing the peace plan opposed: militarizing the conflict.  
  • It was Assad's fault Despite agreeing to the peace plan on March 27, President Bashar al-Assad never implemented the plan and continued ordering attacks against rebel-held towns and villages. Increasingly, signing onto the plan looked like a calculating attempt to buy time to crush the rebels. On the rebels part, while they appeared to halt fighting momentarily, The New York Times notes that they sensed Assad "had no intention of honoring his commitments" and  "did not lay down their weapons either."
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