Two Perspectives on the Cease-Fire Agreement in Syria (Tools and Activities Included)

Presiding over his final United Nations General Assembly meeting at the UN headquarters in New York in September this past year, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon harshly admonished states who have contributed to humanitarian suffering in Syria, specifically referencing the Monday air strike on a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy bound for hard-hit and largely inaccessible rebel-held areas west of Aleppo city. 18 of 31 trucks were destroyed and 20 aid workers were killed in the attacks which the United States and others have blamed on Russia. During his remarks, Ban hailed the dead aid workers as heroes and said “those who bombed them were cowards” before calling for accountability for crimes committed in the war. “Just when you think it cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower,” he said.

Mr. Ban stated that the attack on the convoy was a flagrant violation of the laws of war and announced that all further aid deliveries have been suspended pending further assessment. He placed the blame on all players currently involved in the conflict, boldly claiming, “Powerful patrons that keep feeding the war machine also have blood on their hands.” Ban Ki-moon continued, “Present in this hall today are representatives of governments that have ignored, facilitated, funded, participated in, or, even planned, and carried out atrocities inflicted by all sides of Syrian conflict against Syrian civilians.” The United States, along with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, are among the countries involved in the messy civil war.

But he singled out Syria for a stinging rebuke. “Many groups have killed many innocents, but none more so than the government of Syria,” he said.

Meanwhile, Former President Jimmy Carter lamented the breakdown of the cease-fire agreement but feels the negotiations that led to its brief implementation are reason for optimism, in a September 21st op-ed column in The New York Times. “The targeting of the humanitarian convoy, a war crime, should serve as an added impetus for the United States and Russia to recommit to the cease-fire,” Carter wrote. “The two parties were well aware of the difficulties as they spent a month negotiating the cease-fire’s terms.” Further, he says, “The agreement can be salvaged if all sides unite, for now, around a simple and undeniably important goal: Stop the killing. It may be more likely than it sounds.”

The massive amounts of killed and wounded Syrians should be motivation enough to forge ahead with negotiations, but “the United States and Russia must find ways to work beyond the lack of trust that undermined the previous cease-fire” in February. When peace talks resume in Geneva later in September, the focus should be on bringing an end to the killing of civilians; discussions about governance and leadership should be deferred until basic humanitarian issues are resolved. Simple as this may seem, says Carter, “this approach is not without significant challenges: Foreign players, less concerned about the destruction of Syria than about their own interests, will not necessarily be happy to see the front lines stay where they are. Russia is interested in a Mediterranean port; Iran wants a linkage with Hezbollah in Lebanon; Turkey’s primary goal is undermining Kurdish ambitions; and Saudi Arabia cares most about preventing another Iranian foothold in the Arab world. These interests are already threatening the tenuous cease-fire.” These measures would not work in areas under the control of the Islamic State or other terrorist organizations, but Carter suggests that an end to the killing in other parts of the country could tempt fighters to abandon their territories and “move to areas that offer better living conditions.”

Regular Syrians must join civil society organizations working on humanitarian, human rights and peace-building initiatives to demand that the killing stop. Carter claims that “a groundswell of public calls to stop the killing may compel the Syrian belligerents, and regional and international stakeholders, to take notice — and to take action.” Only when the killing stops can “Syrians work on recovering their lost dignity, which will be essential for addressing the issues that set off the war in the first place,” Carter concludes.

Teaching Tools

Differing Approaches to a Complex Problem: Discussion Points

The UN Secretary General reproaches global leaders gathered at the September General Assembly meeting specifically for the bombing of an aid convoy near Aleppo but his statements could also refer to the ongoing conflicts throughout the Middle East. What is the objective of Ban’s message? Research other instances where he has been vocal about the war in Syria. What are his recommendations for solving the crisis? Who does he think is responsible? In his role, for whom is he an advocate? 

In contrast, Former President Carter proposes alleviating human suffering as a crucial step toward resolving the conflict. What do you think of his idea? Are negotiations and the cease-fire effective? Is his optimism realistic? He believes the involved parties should commit to a no-kill conflict and work on peace talks? How would this be carried out?

Secretary of State John Kerry offered another option on Wednesday, calling for an “immediate grounding of all military aircraft in what he described as “key areas” of Syria — including where aid is delivered — as a last-ditch effort to save an agreement with Russia to reduce violence and ultimately halt a war that shows no sign of slowing.” How feasible is this proposal? Do you think it will happen? Who would oversee the implementation of such a plan? 

Additional Resources

For a general overview of the war in Syria, this explainer can be very helpful: Straightforward Answers to Basic Questions About Syria’s War

For more on the convoy attack and the international response, view the following news stories:
Ban Ki-moon condemns ‘apparently deliberate’ Syria aid convoy attack (The Guardian; September 20, 2016)
John Kerry Urges Grounding of Military Aircraft in ‘Key Areas’ of Syria (The New York Times; September 21, 2006)
Syria Aid Convoy Attack: What We Know (BBC; September 21, 2016)
Russia Denies Any Role in Deadly Convoy Attack in Syria (The New York Times; September 21, 2016)
US blames Russia for Syria convoy attack; Moscow points to terrorists (CNN; September 21, 2016)



Story image credits: Bombed aid trucks in Syria on Tuesday. The destruction of the aid convoy dealt a serious blow to attempts by the United States and Russian to work together on Syria. Omar Haj Kadour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

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