|"A wounded girl sits beside her mother in the Baba Amro neighbourhood of Homs as Syrian government troops shelled the city for a fourth day." (Reuters)|
by Adam Jones
February 7, 2012
Russia and China have used their veto power in the United Nations Security Council to quash even a diluted United Nations resolution against Syria, and ensure that the UN can take no meaningful action in what is arguably the world’s worst current crisis. The Arab League has likewise been forced to withdraw its monitors, who proved mere spectators to the Assad regime's depredations.
These paths to ending the oppression and mass murder of Syrian civilians are thus closed for the foreseeable future. Assad's atrocities, meanwhile, are increasingly assuming a genocidal scale and character. What options are left?
It is time to impose a total sea embargo on weapons shipments to the Syrian government. This means principally Russian deliveries. The embargo could be enforced with Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) vessels and air patrols, helped openly or quietly by NATO forces.
Arab League/GCC governments could announce that they would withdraw diplomatic representatives from any country that violated the embargo. This would serve as a tripwire: thereafter, any Syria-bound vessel that refused to stop for a weapons search should be forcibly stopped. While I strongly oppose Israel's practice of disabling and immobilizing aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip, similar tactics could be followed for arms shipments. A Syrian attack or attempt to interfere could be repelled, and salutary assaults mounted on Assad's air and naval infrastructure to discourage any repetition.
The regional and extra-regional coalition would not be able to halt deliveries of arms by air. If Russia ramps these up in response to a sea embargo, however, there are many additional ways that Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev could be made to feel the heat. Is it really likely that in a crunch, Russia would fundamentally jeopardize its relations with most of the Arab world (including a post-Assad Syria), and with many western countries, just to protect a relatively minor and vulnerable client? It could well be a word from the Kremlin that in the end sends Assad packing.
Iran has also been a staunch military backer of the Assad regime. But reports suggest that Turkey is already monitoring this arms corridor, and has stopped and confiscated at least two Iranian weapons deliveries across Turkish territory, most recently in early January. Such vigilance could be strengthened.
At the same time, Turkey and Arab League/GCC countries should join with governments outside the region to sharply increase arms deliveries and special forces assistance to rebels of the Free Syrian Army. Syrians should take the lead in overthrowing the Assad regime; we should support them.
It is difficult to perceive any realistic alternative to these policies, if the "responsibility to protect" civilians from genocide and crimes against humanity means anything at all. The indications are that Assad is settling in for the long haul. Will the Arab region and the wider world stand by and watch on satellite TV and YouTube as dozens or hundreds of civilians are killed each day? Will people struggling for freedom from despotic rule continue to be slaughtered by their rulers, just because the dictatorship enjoys the support of a few others of its kind?
I suspect that defections from Assad's ranks would increase rapidly if measures like those proposed here were adopted. When his regime falls, large numbers of Arab League/GCC and NATO/UN peacekeepers should be dispatched immediately, to manage a transition and prevent the massacre of members of Assad's Alawite minority in "revenge" attacks.
Under these circumstances, perhaps even Russia and China would come on board, to protect the remaining constituency of their old ally. Consideration of such matters can be postponed, though. The time for decisive, multilateral intervention is at hand.
[Adam Jones, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna, Canada. He is the author of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction (2nd edition, 2010), and has published widely on Arab and Middle East affairs. This text may be freely reprinted and reposted if the author is credited. Text may be considered final: February 8, 2012.]