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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One Response to “A Brief Note About Buffer Zones”

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  1. Pressure for intervention grows. « alexsanalysis - November 12, 2012

    […] the Turkish government requested NATO to provide Patriot Missiles and Turkey and France have been vocal about safe zones in the past. The British government has also stated that it will help the FSA become more organized. Finally, […]

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