Archive | August, 2012

A Brief Note About Buffer Zones

28 Aug

The Turkish government has been considering implementing a buffer zone in Syria. In addition, today, The Telegraph reports that the French government is in the process of formulating plans for a buffer zone. If such a zone were to be established within Syria, it would be quite significant. As I indicated in my last post, a safe/buffer zone would provide an area for refugees to flee as well as a place for the FSA to set up a main base. However, there are questions that must be answered prior to the implementation of a safe/buffer zone.

One important question is Will France and Turkey seek to obtain support for a safe/buffer zone through the United Nations Security Council?

It may be impossible for France and Turkey to ensure passage of a resolution that would demand a buffer zone in northern Syria. Russia and China have protected Assad from UNSC resolutions in the past. It is therefore highly likely that they would veto any resolution that would call for buffer zones and intervention overall. Even if they were to back a buffer zone resolution, an action that is highly unlikely given their previous vetoes, they would likely require such a resolution to be weakened due to their opposition to intervention by Western powers in Syria. As a result, the buffer zone would likely be rendered ineffective. For example, one possible scenario would be Russia and China supporting a buffer zone that would be protected by unarmed UN observers, especially since both nations have backed the usage of such observers before. Since they are unarmed, they would be unable to protect civilians from regime attacks and massacres, not unlike UN peacekeepers in Srebrenica, Bosnia. Altogether, attempting to obtain UNSC support for a buffer zone would be, at best, a fruitless effort.

Two more important questions are: If France and Turkey decide not to obtain UNSC approval, how should they try to build international legitimacy for buffer zones? How should such zones be protected?

Since it would be fruitless, if not counterproductive, to obtain UNSC approval for buffer zones, it would be better to urge NATO and the Arab League to support and participate in the establishment of such zones. By doing this, there would be regional support in Europe as well as the Middle East for buffer zones in Syria. In addition, NATO and the Arab League could provide adequate protection through the usage of fighter jets to bomb and/or attack regime tanks and jets. NATO and Arab League nations could also provide heavy arms for the FSA so that they could also repulse regime attacks.

However, U.S. approval will be needed before any buffer zone would be established. Without support from the Obama administration, it is highly unlikely that France and Turkey will unilaterally work to establish such zones. Thus, American leadership is needed. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the Obama administration would agree to support safe zones in Syria, especially given their reluctance to act during the Syrian revolution as well as the upcoming elections. Thus, if the French and Turkish governments wish to implement buffer zones they will need to apply heavy diplomatic pressure on the Obama administration. I hope they succeed. As I argued in my last post, international inaction only emboldens Assad to continue killing and fears of regional instability have increased as the slaughter continues.

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The pitfalls of the international response to Syria.

26 Aug

The Local Coordination Committees reports that 440 people were killed in Syria on August 25, 2012. Over 300 of these deaths came from the Damascus area alone. Alistar Burt, the junior British Foreign Minister, has reacted with outrage and condemnation. Unfortunately, condemnations and outrage are likely to be the only responses by the international community. Although French officials have declared that they would back a no-fly zone in Syria, the United States and its allies have shown little support for military intervention overall. President Obama has declared that intervention would occur if chemical weapons in Syria are moved, but has refused to intervene over the usage of conventional weapons.

However, President Obama’s warning will only embolden Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to continue killing Syrians with MiGs, L-39s, tanks, artillery, and other types of conventional weapons. As mentioned earlier, 440 people were killed yesterday in Syria and no chemical weapons were used during the slaughter. Assad will therefore not be phased by Obama’s threats. He has plenty of alternatives to chemical weapons.

In addition, despite receiving some weapons from Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Free Syrian Army does not have adequate weaponry to fully counter the regime’s air assaults. That is why the Syrian opposition is asking the international community to provide the FSA with heavy weaponry. Their calls have been largely unanswered and, as Michael Weiss of the Henry Jackson Society has stated, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have reportedly chosen to focus their assistance on Salafis and other ideologically-rigid groups. Thus, the FSA is inadequately armed and there is much concern that the majority of assistance is only going towards more extreme groups. In addition, there are also concerns about the presence of foreign fighters in Syria and it is therefore possible that they could receive arms as well. It must be noted that the majority of the FSA are moderate and most FSA members are Syrian. However, the lack of adequate arms, selective assistance by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the small, yet concerning presence of foreign fighters are all worrisome issues.

This is how the United States should respond:

1. The United States must take the lead in vetting and arming the FSA: To the Obama administration’s credit, the CIA has been vetting arms shipments to the FSA. However, it is not enough. As mentioned before, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have reportedly been providing arms to more extreme groups. The U.S. must therefore take the lead in vetting the FSA groups receiving arms shipments and ensuring that moderate FSA groups receive assistance. In addition, the U.S. should work with its allies to provide heavy arms, such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, to vetted FSA groups so that they would be able to better counter the regime’s assaults.

2. The United States should work with its allies in training and unifying the FSA as well as providing it operational assistance: At this time, despite improvements, the FSA has organizational and coordination issues. U.S. and British special forces could work with Turkish and Jordanian special forces in organizing and unifying the FSA as well as improving its coordination. They could also train vetted FSA groups and therefore help them become more effective on the ground. In addition, special forces from the U.S., U.K., Turkey, and Jordan could work with vetted FSA groups on the ground and provide them intelligence as well as operational advice. Thus, with these actions, FSA capabilities would improve.

3. NATO and the Arab League should create a No-Drive Zone over FSA-controlled areas in Northern Syria: A No-Drive zone would provide the FSA an area to set up a base as well as a place for refugees to flee. In addition, it would also limit the regime’s capabilities. NATO and Arab League jets would bomb and destroy the regime’s tanks as well as prevent regime jets from bombing FSA-held areas. Thus, it would even the odds for the FSA and ensure that FSA-controlled areas are protected from regime incursions. Nevertheless, a no-drive zone is not without risks. Syria’s air defenses are stronger than Libya’s and NATO bombings have the potential of killing civilians. However, such risks can be mitigated. The Israeli air force has penetrated Syrian airspace in the past. Thus, Syria’s air defenses can be defeated. In addition, NATO can reduce civilian causalities through the usage of precision bombs. They won’t eliminate casualties entirely, but can limit them.

Altogether, by training, arming, and organizing the FSA as well as creating a no-drive zone, the international community would be able to strengthen FSA capabilities as well as weaken the regime. As a result, the aforementioned comprehensive intervention can help hasten the Assad’s fall and thus bring an end to the atrocities. Moreover, a hastened fall is necessary. Many Syrians continue to die as the bloody stalemate continues in Syria. Instability continues to grow as does concerns over the presence of foreign fighters. Fighting has also spread beyond Syria’s borders and into Lebanon. Regional spillover will likely continue as the slaughter and conflict in Syria remains at a stalemate. Overall, the consequences of inaction are dire and are worsening each day. It is therefore time for the international community to end its passivity and act to save the people of Syria.