The Annan Plan Has Failed- What’s Next?

16 Jun

Today, the United Nations suspended its observer mission in Syria. This is an unsurprising development, given the dangers that the observers faced as well as the continual violence. Moreover, the mission itself was hindered by limitations. For example, the number of observers was inadequate. There were only 300 observers for a nation of 23 million people. Observers were also unarmed, and were thus unable to defend civilians nor themselves. Their mandate was also limited since they were observing instead of peacekeeping. Most of all, their efforts only gave more time for the regime to continue its genocidal campaign. As mentioned earlier, violence continues and several massacres occurred during the mission itself. Since the observer mission and the ceasefire were crucial parts of the Annan plan, and because both of these provisions have failed, the Annan plan has been, and is now officially, dead.

I believe the following events will now occur after this failure:

1. Indirect intervention will continue- On June 13, 2012, three days before the observer mission was suspended, The Independent reported that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were providing arms for the Free Syrian Army. Since the Annan plan has now officially collapsed and the Assad regime continues to remain undeterred by diplomatic pressure, I suspect that Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and other nations will continue to arm the FSA. Although the Obama administration has been hesitant on supporting such an intervention, I believe that it will reluctantly do so, especially given recent developments. In fact, administration officials have recently held meetings with FSA representatives. Moreover, recent news reports suggest that the administration has been leaning towards supporting its Arab allies in providing weapons to the FSA. It is also politically safe for the President to arm the FSA as his opponent, former governor Mitt Romney, has stated his support for this. Thus, due to both the political feasibility as well as the failure of the Annan plan, it is more likely than not for the Obama administration to increase its support for, as well as participate in, efforts to improve the military capabilities of the FSA. It is, however, unlikely that the president will support more direct intervention, such as NATO airstrikes and/or deploying troops to the region. Given the public aversion to military action, and upcoming elections in November, such tactics will likely not be considered for many months.

2. The United Nations will remain in a deadlock: Since the Obama administration and NATO have both expressed aversion to direct military intervention, it is likely for the United States and its Western allies to also continue to rely on futile diplomatic pressure to stop the atrocities. Since the Annan plan has failed, I suspect that they may push for Russia and China to apply economic sanctions on Syria and use their clout to pressure Bashar al-Assad to step down. However, such efforts will be fruitless. Both China and Russia have rejected the usage of economic sanctions on Syria. In addition, as some analysts have stated, Russian president Vladmir Putin continues to strongly support Assad and weapons shipments to the regime have continued. Thus, it is highly unlikely that any progress will be made in the United Nations. China and Russia will continue to block any efforts by the U.S., U.K., and France to pressure and/or remove Assad from power.

3. A bloody and brutal stalemate will continue in the short-term: Although the FSA controls large swathes of Syria, including many villages in the northern portion of the country and despite the fact that the regime’s control of Damascus has been threatened, the FSA is outgunned by the regime. Arms shipments by Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be helpful in evening the fight, but for now, the regime has a significant advantage in terms of armaments. In addition, the regime has forced the FSA to withdraw from some towns, such as Haffa. Nonetheless, as mentioned earlier, the FSA still controls a significant portion of the country and recent arms shipments from regional governments have strengthened FSA capabilities in destroying  tanks. As a result, although the FSA has made important progress, the situation remains a bloody stalemate, especially given the regime’s advantage in weaponry and continual/daily clashes between the regime and the FSA. Just as worse, the regime is depending more upon its militia, otherwise known as the shabiha, for conducting massacres and asserting control. The shaibha are notorious for brutal crimes, such as rape as well as mass murder in Qubair and Houla. Thus, while a bloody stalemate ensues in Syria, the shabiha will also likely to continue to commit atrocities against people in Syria.

Altogether, although I am confident that the international community will do more to support the Free Syrian Army, I do not believe much progress will be made overall. Arming the FSA is crucial, especially since it is outgunned by the regime. However, due to the regime’s advantages, it will take time for such armaments to turn the tide. In addition, I expect the international community to remain paralyzed by disputes about how to address the situation as well as a reluctance to support direct intervention. Sadly, such paralysis will be harmful, especially as the shabiha will continue to commit atrocities against innocent civilians in Syria.  Therefore, it is time for Western powers and their regional allies to consider the usage of more aggressive measures, such as airstrikes or utilizing special forces to organize and train the FSA as well as assist it with operational planning and logistics. Otherwise, the paralysis and deadlock will continue and so will the atrocities. Russia and China will oppose such measures, but Western powers and the Arab League could press for action outside of the U.N. 

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