Vail Valley Voices: What to do about Syria
Vail, CO, Colorado
The Syrian crisis’ carnage came to the forefront of the international community several weeks ago. The catalyst was Russia and China’s veto of several United Nations resolutions aimed at addressing the crisis.
What motivated Russia and China’s veto? Are other European and Middle Eastern organizations addressing the Syrian issue regardless of the U.N.’s decisions? And will the situation compel the Unit ed States, other European nations, or NATO to intervene militarily, even if Beijing and Moscow stymie the U.N.?
The most likely scenario unfolding in Syria is as follows:
• Russia and China’s veto will continue providing both see any hint, suggestion or insinuation of a Syrian “regime change.”
• The European Union will strengthen existing economic and diplomatic sanctions against Damascus.
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• The League of Arab States will remain the Middle East’s voice in the U.N. regarding Syria. It will become the strongest advocate for regime change. • NATO will not intervene in Syria unless sanctioned by the United Nations.
• A 50-75 percent chance exists that individual European nations and the U.S. will covertly support Syria’s opposition forces, eventually.
Moscow and Beijing are reluctant to punish Syria since both see Damascus as a strategic asset. Syria is a large Russian and Chinese arms importer.
Russia exported $5 billion in weapons to Syria last year, while Damascus was the third-largest receiver of Beijing munitions shipments. Both countries are probably worried that a U.N. resolution advocating Syrian President Basharal Assad’s ouster might encourage anti government elements within their own countries. Moscow arguably sees Damascus as a foothold in the Mediterranean. The Syrians are currently leasing their naval port to Russia – a warm water port Moscow lacks and historically has aspired to gaining. Russia’s veto is designed to illustrate Moscow remains a geopolitical force, a fact Putin is using in Russia’s upcoming elections.
And finally, China and Syria support each other’s diplomatic agendas. The strategic implications of Assad’s ouster for Moscow and Beijing cannot be underestimated.
Various international organizations are not wait ing for the U.N. to act on Syria. The most active are the European Union and League of Arab States, while the other potential participant – NATO – is avoiding participation. The European Union enacted different sanctions against Syria last year. These included freezing assets, prohibiting travel by Assad-affiliated officials, imposing an arms embargo, and banning imported Syrian crude oil. Those are probably not the last sanctions the EU will implement.
The League of Arab States is the most direct international participant in Syria’s drama. It attempted to mediate the conflict in November. Both sides made a tentative agreement, yet the Syrian government violated the accord after attacking the opposition’s headquarters in Homs. The League of Arab States retaliated by imposing sanctions curtailing trade and investment between its members and Syria. It deployed an observer mission to Syria in December – a mission which ended after failing to enforce the November accords.
The League of Arab States has since severed ties with the Assad regime. The Middle East organization is now calling for its members to provide political and financial support to Assad’s main opponent, the Syrian National Council. On February 12th the Qatar based organization requested the UN deploy a joint Peacekeeping Mission with the League of Arab States to Syria, lastly. The League of Arab States will probably remain active in Syria’s crisis, until its conclusion.
The one international player absent from Syria’s crisis is NATO. The North Atlantic Alliance’s secretary- general, Anders Rasmussen, said in October that NATO will not become involved in the Syrian theater. The North Atlantic Alliance will not participate unless mandated by the U.N. – an unlikely scenario, given Russia and China’s policies.
What cannot be discounted is European and/or American military covert assistance to Syria’s opposition forces. British and French officials started informally meeting Assad’s adversaries in November. Other European nations may follow their example.
What is uncertain is whether these discussions will compel Paris, London, Washington or other European governments to arm the rebels.
Arming the insurgents now is a mistake, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria contends. Zakaria noted the opposition’s ranks lack military expertise, which is resolved only by defections from Assad’s military and security apparatus.
The issue may be change. If the League of Arab States members furnish military advisers and related logistical elements – an existing possibility considering covert arms and funding is being supplied to Syria’s opposition forces from different Saudi Arabian sources, according to the BBC. Several key questions need asking. First, how long – or can – the Syrian regime continue its onslaught? Second, will the Europeans, Americans, or both, start arming the opposition? And finally, will the U. N. ultimately pass a resolution enacting sanctions and/or a peacekeeping force to Syria?
The answer to the last question rests in Russian and Chinese circles. The situation is also contingent upon how the Europeans and Americans interact with Assad’s adversaries.
What may determine the crisis’ length – and results – are the answers to those questions. The Arab Spring may yet witness its bloodiest months shortly, depending on how those issues are addressed.
Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia.