As Swarthmore Gets to You, Articles Become Thoughts of the Day

16 Nov

Between organizing a conference, going to a lecture, working tonight, that physics problem set that I probably should have started, promising my girlfriend to see Skyfall with her tomorrow, the intramural soccer finals this weekend, and working on the Swarthmore SPJP divestment campaign, I’m a little bogged down.  Therefore, the piece on Syria, intervention, and R2P that I planned to finish today isn’t going to happen.  In lieu of a real piece, I want to quickly sketch out an idea that came into my head a few weeks ago.

In Bec Hamilton’s book, Fighting for Darfur, the author outlines how advocates were able to use the Olympics as a way to pressure China to stop supporting the Sudanese government in Khartoum.  While China is generally oblivious to human rights criticisms from the West, the Olympics were its one moment of weakness.  China hoped to present itself as a modern nation that respected basic human rights, and its dealings in Sudan contradicted that carefully cultivated image.   Sustained pressure directed toward Steven Spielberg, the director of the opening ceremonies, eventually caused his resignation.  This sustained media campaign that highlighted Chinese support of abuses in Darfur eventually slightly shifted China’s position concerning Sudan in the UN.

Fortunately, dumb luck has presented civilian protection advocates with an almost identical opportunity.  The 2014 Olympics will be hosted in Sochi, Russia.  And I’m sure almost everyone’s made the link by this point in the article, but Russia is Syria’s main supporter in the UN.  Similarly, Russia tends to be immune to criticism regarding its human rights records, but the Olympics are a legitimizing experience for any government, and no country wants the collective memory of its games to be dominated by negative associations.  It may be hard to find as clear a target as Steven Spielberg, but once advocates do find an entry point, they should jump on it.  Pressuring Russia over the Olympics won’t end the violence in Syria, and advocates should continue to use other strategies.  However, it could affect Russia’s policy for the better, so why not give it a go?


4 Responses to “As Swarthmore Gets to You, Articles Become Thoughts of the Day”

  1. Megan W. November 16, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    This would be an interesting push. I had thought a lot about the role of pressure on China in Bec’s book too – around the time we were speculating on intervention in Libya. However, here you’ve noted a real window of opportunity that is worth a try. In the lead up to the Olympics, where can one place pressure? Because I hope we don’t see the violence prolonged in Syria until 2014…

  2. cornwellrc November 16, 2012 at 11:56 am #


  3. dhirsch1 November 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    I think it is very possible that large scale violence will have ended in a year or so, making the Olympics less relevant. However, who knows what role Russia will play in a post-Assad Syria. For one reason or another, advocates may still want to put pressure on the Kremlin, and the Olympics provides an opportunity.

  4. Gerry January 2, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

    Hey, good to find sonmeoe who agrees with me. GMTA.

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