Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Syria - The Big Question

            As violence appears to rage unabated in Syria and the Damascus government creeps and slithers around it's responsibilities under the Kofi Annan peace deal, things may be coming to a head. With shelling and attacks continuing in Homs, Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Damascus, it seems clear that without a sudden and unexpected change in direction, the Syrian government is continuing it's brutal repression of activists and the Free Syrian Army. This then begs the question: 'if Annan's peace plan has failed, what is next for the international community?'
             The responsibility to do anything falls primarily, though not entirely, on the shoulders of the UN and the Arab League along with interested parties such as NATO and neighbours Turkey and Iran. A wide range of interventions and policy options are available to these actors and unified action may be the only way to bring this mess to some kind of conclusions.
             On the non-interventionist end, there is simple quarantine. A harsh measure, it must however be considered as a viable option. In the UN Security Council both Russia and China are staunchly anti-intervention in their opinions and a lack of will or ability may overshadow the choices of the remaining members. Similarly, the Arab League has it's own problems to worry about; with so many states coming out of the revolutions of the Arab Spring any large scale intervention would have to be led by a small number of its members (such as Saudi Arabia) and such unilateral sacrifice is unlikely.
            Turkey and Iran currently form a precarious balancing act of non-intervention (Turkey in support of the rebels and and Iran supporting Damascus) and any move by either party could bring two of the Middle East's major powers into confrontation. Therefore the idea of imposing sanctions and a wall of conflict interdiction may be a possible solution. Turkey has already had violence spread across its border following the trail of thousands of refugees; a military buffer zone is an easy solution. Quarantine would also work for the UNSC and other international bodies - hard enough to look good to the domestic audience without having to commit manpower or money for extended periods of time.
              On the entirely opposite end of the spectrum is full scale military involvement, probably following a similar vein as the earlier successful mission in Libya. Involved parties (Turkey, NATO, the UN or the League)   could push arms to the Free Syrian Army while using air and naval power to dominate the Syrian military. Cost effective, easy to extract from and generally low risk to personnel, this seems the best option from the point of view of the international actors. However, the likelihood of this being done is limited at best. Russia, one of Syria's greatest allies, would automatically veto any attempt to overthrow a friendly government in the UNSC and China would probably concur though on less nepotist grounds. Russia would also feature heavily in the decisions of NATO - attacking the ally of a dubious and powerful neighbour may not be a wise choice.
               While intervention may be the most humanitarian and even moral option, at the moment it seems unlikely. While their are a great number of choices in the grey area between the two extremes outlined above (economic sanctions, arms running, limited incursion) it seems that, for the moment at least the international community may not want to get too heavily involved in the political and military quagmire that is the Syrian civil war. Yes, they will voice their disgust and outrage frequently and loudly but in the end it is arguable that they will always ere on the side of caution.

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