Guardian article by Chris Doyle about resignation of Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan's resignation as the United Nations and Arab League special envoy to Syria is only surprising in that he held out for so long. Since he was appointed in February, he has been charged with handling a crisis that too few wanted resolved peacefully. His departing comments were devastating: "As an envoy, I can't want peace more than the protagonists, more than the security council or the international community, for that matter."
Annan's six-point peace plan was dependent on all the parties acting in good faith in implementing it. For a few days in April a ceasefire led to a significant decrease in the violence, but it did not last. 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. Annan's mission did engineer limited access for journalists in Syria and helped Syrian opposition groups to become more credible. But many in the Syrian opposition were at best lukewarm towards his mandate as they still chased the elusive foreign intervention that they saw as the only way to topple Assad.
The international community has tried to manage this conflict, not resolve it – underestimating its seriousness for regional peace and security. Worse, some actively stoked the tensions, even as they feigned support for Annan's mission. Russia and Iran have armed and financed the Assad regime. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have stated that they would finance the armed opposition. Annan desperately attempted to galvanise international consensus. At Geneva in June he succeeded in getting Russian and Chinese to agree to a transition plan for Syria but incredibly he was left alone to do the follow-up.
The reality with the UN is that its effectiveness is always dependent on the consensus of its key members. With Syria, the international community remains deeply divided. Russia and China fear western intervention. The US and EU powers do not want to get sucked in. Middle Eastern regional powers are increasingly fighting a turf war in Syria, just as they did in Lebanon during its 15-year civil war. It is these divisions that allowed the Assad regime to manipulate Annan's mission, play for time and toy with the UN observers.
Diplomacy is not dead but it is in hibernation. Full-scale intervention is still unlikely and no major power is itching to get involved. Annan's resignation will have little impact on a regime now solely concerned with smashing the armed uprising by all means possible. The bloodshed and destruction in Syria will escalate and the various sides and their external backers will slug it out. The danger is that, only when there is not much left to fight over, will the remaining combatants finally sit down and talk. When they do so, many will look back and wonder at the human and physical cost of not having supported the Annan mission.