To the editor of THE EAGLE:

Syria is the latest in a seeming unending series of human disasters crying out for intervention by the international community to save lives and end armed conflict. On the ground, seen from the viewpoint of ordinary people, women, children and the elderly, civil wars and insurgencies are as harmful, perhaps more harmful, than inter-state wars.

In villages and city neighborhoods one cannot step outside without risk, or stay inside without fear. Providing food, much less going to work or school, becomes impossible. One can flee to refugee camps, themselves often filled with deadly conflicts. Or one can find a powerful patron, government forces or insurgencies or simply a local individual or group with guns, a step that may solve today’s need for security but make the overall civil conflict even worse. This has been the real, on the ground experience of humanitarian disaster for millions of people since the anti-colonial rebellions and internal civil wars that have marked the last centuries.

The obvious answer is the development of the international community’s capacity to intervene to protect people (and perhaps someday to prevent and resolve conflicts). In the absence of this capacity, individual states and clusters of states may intervene, with at best ambiguous results, as France did recently in Mali and NATO did in Bosnia and Kosovo. U.S. intervention in Syria, carried out with the support of NATO and regional allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia may temporarily relieve suffering but is unlikely to bring about a cease-fire, much less regional stability or sufficient safety to allow families to meet their daily needs or for refugees to return home.

Yet, as in Rwanda, good people are reluctant to do nothing. At the least then the goal of U.S. policy should be the development of an international capacity to intervene in situations of humanitarian disaster. While this option is not yet available it should be a factor as the U.S. examines its options. Will the steps proposed move us closer to, or further from, the trust and cooperation needed to carry out our shared responsibility to protect the world’s most vulnerable people?

In the absence of international options, multinational intervention should be preferred over unilateral action. In this case that means working with NATO allies and states in the region with a stake in regional stability, and consistent appeals for the participation on a partnership basis of Syria’s allies, Russia, China and Iran. It will be said that they have "dogs in the fight" and cannot be trusted, but Israel, Turkey and NATO have interests as well.

The key is to carry out intervention and its aftermath in a truly cooperative manner focused on human needs that builds the trust ultimately required if the international community is to develop the capacity to carry out its humanitarian responsibilities. DAVID O’BRIEN

Richmond