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Q&A: Stanford experts on Kofi Annan's resignation as Syria envoy

Stanford experts say Kofi Annan had an impossible mission, and his departure won't tarnish the Nobel Peace Prize winner's legacy.

When Kofi Annan said Thursday he planned to step aside as special envoy for the conflict in Syria, he put much of the blame on the United Nations Security Council for the failure to make peace in the war-ravaged country.

"When the Syrian people desperately need action, there continues to be finger pointing and name calling in the Security Council," Annan said. "It is impossible for me or anyone to compel the Syrian government and also the opposition to take the steps to bring about the political process. As an envoy, I can't want peace more than the protagonists, more than Security Council or the international community, for that matter."

The uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began in March 2011 and rights activists say it has left more than 19,000 dead. Annan became the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria in February, with the goal of getting both sides to put down their weapons. He designed a six-point plan for peace, which was never fully implemented.

Stephen J. Stedman, a senior fellow at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and Larry Diamond, the director of the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at FSI, offer their analysis of the impact of Annan's resignation.

 

Does the resignation of Annan, who is well respected among diplomats, signal that there is no hope for peace in Syria?

Diamond: I think it's been apparent for several weeks, at least, that the peace mission was doomed, that the Assad regime was not prepared to negotiate, and that the refusal of Russia and China to agree to any kind of meaningful pressure on the Assad regime has left violent resistance by the opposition and the society as the only option.

Syria is sinking deeper and deeper into all-out civil war, and only an escalation of military pressure and economic sanctions on the Assad regime and its principal leaders and supporters offers any hope of resolution. Sometimes, when one or both parties refuse to negotiate, the only way to end a civil war is for one side to win. Libya provides the most recent example of that. If Assad and his allies are going to negotiate a peaceful exit, it will only be because they are staring at the prospect of fairly imminent military defeat.

 

Could Annan have done something differently?

Diamond: It is very difficult to negotiate with a regime that is bent on repression and total domination, especially when you can't credibly threaten to impose formidable costs on the regime if it refuses to compromise. I don't think there was anything more that Annan could have done, because he had no leverage, no tools to work with, as a result of the inability of the Security Council to agree on tough sanctions.

 

Will the failure to make peace in Syria tarnish Annan's legacy?

Stedman: The failure to make peace in Syria should not and will not tarnish Annan's legacy. First, he is already a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and one failure in an extraordinarily difficult case does not diminish the rest of his diplomatic successes. With regards to Syria, no one expected him to succeed, but he needed to try and he needed to be seen to try. His position was special envoy of the Security Council, and if anyone is looking for a scapegoat they should start looking at the council.

Diamond: No, I don't think this will tarnish Annan's legacy. He had a nearly impossible mission; everyone knew that. The failure was a collective failure of the international system, not the failure of an individual mediator. Annan is a great man who has made major contributions to world peace and security. It's not his fault that a brutal regime, backed by the world's two most powerful authoritarian states, refused to negotiate.

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