The brutal repression unleashed by the Assad regime in March 2011 in response to peaceful demands for change and reform in Syria has led to a full-scale civil war, with a mounting death toll (now in excess of 93,000) and one of the gravest humanitarian situations ever faced by the international community. The action of Russia, Iran and other parties in arming and assisting the Assad regime is wrong and should cease immediately.In the face of relentless violence, the EU adopted wide-ranging sanctions against Syria. These included, until last month, a ban on the export of weapons to Syria as part of an effort to stop the fighting and to promote a process of dialogue between the authorities and the opposition. I remain firmly of the view that the provision of weapons to Syrian opposition groups, however well-intentioned, runs the risk of exacerbating an already heavily militarized conflict and fuelling further instability and violence in the wider region.
Instead of adding to the stock of weaponry in Syria, I would like to see a global arms embargo imposed through a UN Security Council resolution which would cut off all weapon flows to Syria. Believing that this would be the best means of getting the regime and the opposition to focus on political dialogue rather than on military action, Ireland and many of its international partners have called for a global arms embargo. Regrettably, it has not been possible to achieve this because of lack of agreement within the Security Council.
The bloody and destructive conflict rages on, accordingly. The continuing supply of heavy weapons to the Syrian Government, which has used them to inflict massive damage on built-up areas, has been especially damaging. At the same time, there has been no decisive alteration in the balance of forces on the ground. The prolonged stalemate we are witnessing in Syria only reinforces my view that there can be no military solution to this crisis.
I believe that the supply of weapons to the warring parties can only lead to further destruction and casualties and runs the risk of launching an arms race, with potentially devastating consequences for the stability of the wider region. I fear also that the supply of arms to Syria severely undermines the diplomatic efforts which are underway to promote a political settlement to the conflict, such as the US-Russia proposal to convene an international peace conference on Syria (Geneva II).
At the EU Foreign Affairs Council meetings on 27 May and 24 June, both of which I attended, it was clear that there is broad agreement among the 27 member States to lend full and active support to the Geneva II initiative. This initiative was also strongly endorsed by the G8 leaders meeting in Enniskillen on 17/18 June.
Promoting a power-sharing agreement between Syrian authorities and the opposition is clearly the only way to end the violence and to respond to the legitimate aspirations of so many Syrians for peace and democracy. Ireland and its EU partners will continue to work hard to achieve these vital objectives.