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After Aleppo

DENVER – The end of the fighting in Aleppo will not end the Syrian war, despite the countrywide ceasefire that has just been agreed. Nor will it ease the suffering of the city’s population, much of which has been displaced. What the Aleppo siege will do is clinch Syria’s place in history as, to borrow former US Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s phrase, another “problem from hell.” And, like other hellish recent regional conflicts, such as those in Bosnia (to which Christopher was referring) and Rwanda, future historians will emphasize a crucial feature of the Syria conflict: the spectacular diplomatic failures that enabled it to escalate.

Good diplomacy begins with a keen analysis of interests, both of the country in question and of relevant external powers. It demands a careful assessment of how the pursuit of those interests will affect the regional and international order. And it seeks ways to strengthen the capacity of regional or world powers to help solve problems.

Throughout this process, universally shared and consistently reinforced values – both critical in getting disparate actors to work together to resolve problems and challenges – must provide a moral compass and common ground for action. The key is to ensure that values do not become weapons, deployed by one actor against another in a way that exacerbates tensions and undermines solutions.

Consider the 1990s Bosnian War – the result of unfinished business from the breakup of the Austrian and Ottoman empires and the creation of nation-states earlier in the twentieth century. The conflict erupted in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, at a moment when one set of international organizing principles had collapsed and a new set had not yet been created. Partly as a result of this, the conflict was characterized by large-scale civilian carnage and human-rights violations.