Post-Syria regime plan needed: Rudd
War zone: Syria needs a plan for its future. Picture: AP

The situation in Syria has gone beyond the point of being a humanitarian crisis. It is on the road to becoming a crime against humanity.

More than 60,000 civilian deaths, including 3500 children, is simply obscene. It is like watching Rwanda.

An estimated 2.6 million people have been displaced both internally and externally, putting enormous pressure on the humanitarian agencies.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is heading to Perth for AUKMIN talks this week, has called for countries in the European Union to send a strong signal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad that further options remain open for foreign countries to assist the Syrian opposition to save civilian lives.

I have also argued that the international community should be considering all available options to save lives and questioned to what extent the international community should begin to provide defensive arms to the Syrian National Coalition to help protect civilians from Mr Assad's air force and artillery.

The challenge now is that humanitarian aid has become harder and harder to deliver within Syria because the security situation does not effectively permit it.

The truth is, the regime will not seek to negotiate unless and until the military circumstances on the ground begin to tip decisively in the direction of the Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army. That will also affect the view of Russia and China whose opposition to substantial United Nations Security Council action is a major challenge.

Those who seek to divorce diplomatic solutions from the military realities on the ground are not being realistic about how to best stop the continuing slaughter.

Reasonable contingency planning by the international community, including NATO, the European Union, the Arab League and the UN, is also now a critical necessity in preventing a post-conflict political, security and humanitarian disaster should Mr Assad fall.

The UN's history of managing post-conflict fragile states is at best mixed. But it is time to draw on the lessons of the past - from Kosovo to Libya - on how to bring together the complex tasks of peacekeeping, post-conflict stabilisation, humanitarian intervention, economic development given the destruction of much of Syria's infrastructure and the sensitive task of truth and reconciliation given the fratricidal potential of Syria's various political and sectarian constituencies.

Furthermore, for this to work, preparations need to be made for a properly constituted and trained UN force that could be rapidly deployed on the ground.

This will enable aid to reach those who need it most. I commend the work that Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has done on this front - Australia's contribution to humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people exceeds $30 million. For Australia this is both a significant contribution and one we should be proud of.

None of this is easy.

But unless the work is done now, a political vacuum in Damascus is likely to be long term, particularly given Iranian strategic interests and the internal dynamics of retributional politics.

Prospects for post-conflict political and sectarian violence at this stage are high. Again, this means that planning for an effective international intervention if and when the regime collapses is now critical.

Therefore for the period ahead, helping turn the military tables on the ground in Syria, helping to protect civilians now as well as preparing in detail for post-Assad Syria to prevent a political vacuum are the core challenges facing the international community today.

Australia is a middle power with both regional and global interests. We are also driven by universal values including the responsibility to protect civilians.

As a founding member of the UN and as a current member of the Security Council we also have a credible voice to bring to the table on the questions concerning Syria's future which now confront the international community.

Kevin Rudd is the Federal member for Griffith and a former Australian prime minister and former foreign affairs minister

The West Australian

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