Mass graves and tipping points

The mass graves of Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995 were a tipping point. Eight thousand men and boys were slaughtered there. Nato began bombing Serb targets around Sarajevo.

The mass graves of Racak in Kosovo in 1999 were a tipping point. Forty-five Albanian farmers were massacred there. NATO began months of bombing against Yugoslavia.

In both cases the West acted because there was a will and a way.

Bosnian Muslim, Suhra Malic, prays at the Memorial Center in Potocari in 2009 Credit: Reuters

The threatened massacre in Benghazi in Libya last year was a tipping point. Cameron and Sarkozy decided to bomb Gadaffi targets. Again there was a will and (with American help) there was a way.

Do the mass graves of Houla in Syria represent a tipping point? It is unlikely, because this time there is not really the will and almost certainly not the way - at least not one that doesn’t lead to the regional conflagration the US Ambassador Susan Rice warned about at the UN this evening.

Quite simply the will has been sapped by the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. America and Britain are bent on extricating troops from conflict not dumping them into another one as unpredictable, open ended and dangerous as Syria.

Even a “safe havens” plan means first taking out Syrian air defences, aircraft and artillery.

That way, all out conflict is highly likely.

The West does have an option. It could decide unilaterally to ignore Security Council vetoes, launch military action and effectively call the bluff of Russia, China and Iran all currently propping up the Syrian regime.

The hope would be that Moscow and Tehran decide it’s not worth the fight.

Burial in Houla Credit: Reuters

But that is unrealistic and would be an extremely high stakes gamble America and Britain will not be prepared to take. The reality is that the only tipping point that matters is Russia’s.

When Moscow decides enough is enough, when it decides that it’s time to pull the blood stained rug from underneath its ally Assad, then there is a chance of progress.

But when will Russia’s tipping point be reached? How much blood must be spilt before then Will that point ever be reached?

There’s no sign it will come anytime soon. And that is the great sadness for Syria and its people.