MATEJ JUNGWIRTH, Contributor
On Thursday, Feb. 16, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved a resolution that has effectively backed the Arab League’s effort to cease the escalating hostilities in Syria. However overwhelming this vote was (137 countries for, 12 against and 17 abstaining), it is a non-binding declaration that will hardly become a turning point in the Syrian conflict. A much greater opportunity was squandered a few weeks earlier when the delegates of Russia and China, despite hopes of the contrary, vetoed a potentially much more powerful proposal of the UN Security Council. True, both countries have been allegedly disappointed with the transition of command to NATO in the Libyan intervention. But there is a more severe underlying reason for this defying approach. Russians all across the country are joining antigovernmental protests in numbers unseen since the collapse of Soviet Union. And in China, a growing number of provinces are challenging the prevailing political status quo. Thus, both countries are extremely wary of any interpretation of the international law that would allow the UN or NATO to intervene in a sovereign state for the sake of its citizen’s lives and rights, lest they come under a close scrutiny themselves. However, that the UN Security Council is semi-paralyzed and dysfunctional is nothing new and the world should not rely on it exclusively in its effort to help the Syrians.
Firstly, and most importantly, Bashir Assad has to go. By giving direct orders to aggressively tackle the originally nonviolent uprisings, he has helped to escalate the conflict and discredited himself irreparably in the eyes of most Syrians. Perhaps inspired by the example of his father, who drowned a similar uprising in the blood of some 20, 000 citizens about thirty years ago, he may as well believe that he could suppress the revolt by sheer force. The world has to prove him wrong.
But certainly not by the massive injection of the arms for the rebels. Even though this option has been intensively disputed lately, it would, for now, almost certainly lead to nothing. Unlike in Libya, there is no overarching opposition group in Syria, in fact, two rival groups are currently claiming the post of national council. Moreover, Syria is extremely fragmented both ethnically and religiously. (Which is also the reason why most minorities are backing the Assad regime–unless they get a guarantee of safety akin to that they had enjoyed under the current regime from the opposition, they are not willing to openly switch sides). Thus, the imported arms could well end up as a tool for enhanced ethnic retributions. Moreover, the professional soldiers/defectors comprise only part of the rebelling forces, which would require the arms importers to secure the training too, which may be nearly impossible given the current conditions. Another proposal, an aerial bombing campaign, would not be much more effective. Libya was a flat place that was neatly split into the rebel east and Quaddafi west with only a few major communications in between. Syria on the other hand is a rocky country and the rebels have no permanent hold over larger swathes of land. Nevertheless, establishing a no-fly zone to prevent the Syrian air forces from taking part in the suppression would make much more sense.
For countries willing to act against the rising tide of atrocities, the best bet for now seems a creation of buffer zones along the Turkish-Syrian border. Even though Turkey seems to have nothing of it for now, Western and Arab countries alike should pressure it to help create and enforce safe zones in adjacent Syrian regions that would offer safety to civilians and a place where an interim transitional government could be established. And if a stalemate were looming, Western countries should ultimately properly train and arm rebel forces so that Assad’s stubbornly violent rule might be put to a close.
This solution undoubtedly carries great risks and difficulties for all involved. Nevertheless, between the perils of a direct intervention and shamefulness of watching from afar, this might be just the right way to effectively support Syrians in their plight. Moreover, it would prove the Assad regime wrong in their understanding of the impotence of the international community as a green light to launch a kill-all campaign against its own people.