The Doctrine of Exception* was developed in the wake of the non-violent Arab Spring uprisings to justify rare cases of military intervention in the Middle East to support emerging democracies. The term "tipping point" is a formal -- though subjective -- moment when intervention is thought critical to the success of transition from an autocratic to a democratic regime.
Most importantly, the Doctrine of Exception explains the need for force as an alternative to the theme of non-violence as the policy for change.
Today, for the first time UN Envoy Kofi Annan declared Syria is at a "tipping point" after the Houla massacre:
On the heels of a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan warned that the crisis was "at a tipping point" after the killings of more than 100 people last week in the town of Houla, now said to be carried out in door-to-door shootings.
"The Syrian people do not want the future to be one of bloodshed and division," Annan told reporters in Damascus. "Yet the killings continue and the abuses are still with us today."
The peace plan he brokered earlier this year, which includes halting hostilities, was not being carried out, Annan stated.**
Kofi Annan invoked a "tipping point" due to the Houla massacre.
Last week, on May 25, 2012, an attack by regime forces on Houla left 108 people dead. Most of the victims were shot at close range. Many of the victims are women, children and other civilians.
At least eight countries, including the United States, expelled Syrian ambassadors in protest.
The Houla attack violated the six-week-old ceasefire authored Annan.
UN PEACE PLAN
In February 2012, Kofi Annan was appointed the UN/Arab League envoy and dispatched to Syria to resolve the ongoing civil conflict.
Annan developed a six-point plan for peace.***
The Doctrine of Exception helps define the threshold for military intervention. Has the threshold; i.e., the "tipping point", arrived in the months-old Syrian conflict? Is Kofi Annan justified in what amounts to invoking Western military intervention?
The Doctrine of Exception states:
"The United States will act when there is a threat to the balance of power in known or emerging democracies in order to preserve the advancement of democratic ideals."
. . . .
In regard to "balance of power", I refer to the tipping point of historical circumstances in which change in a country's form of government is possible with minimal assistance from the West.*
These are some questions that would clarify the Syrian dilemma:
1. Has the conflict between regime and opposition forces reached a stalemate, whereby "minimal assistance" from the West would shift the balance of power in favor of democracy?
2. Is the opposition organized sufficiently to assume power over a reform government?
3. What would a post-Assad Syria look like? Would extremists or moderates prevail? Would a new government be friendly toward the West? What are the risks of a vacuum in law and order in the event Assad fails?
4. How long before a satisfactory resolution of the conflict? Would Syria become a military quagmire?
4. Are the major world powers, including Russia, acting in concert in support of the opposition?
These and similar questions inform the notion of a "tipping point" as a brief, critical moment of opportunity for radical change in the fate of a people. Such a moment should be weighed against the counsel of cold reserve rather than the flame of emotion, even if it is fueled by moral outrage.
The Houla massacre is clearly a crime against humanity, but crimes against humanity do not necessarily constitute a formal "tipping point" as defined by the Doctrine of Exception.
The West should engage Russia to determine the conditions for its support in resolving the crisis in Syria.
Is Syria part of the Arab Spring?
Sadly, not yet.
* "Doctrine of Exception",
1. commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy;
2. commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilise the country.
To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres.
As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism.
Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;
3. ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level;
4. intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained, immediately begin organizing access to such locations and through appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for information, access or release regarding such persons;
5. ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;
6. respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.