The Best Support for Syria
by Jordan Plahn | Virginia Tech
“Anyone wounded dies, as there is no way they can leave town or go to a hospital.” – Khaled Abul Salah, activist
As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, the international community remains steadfastly reserved. Though condemnation of the crisis has continued since fighting began more than 16 months ago, little has been done to successfully undermine the Assad regime. Though the reluctance of Russia and China, as members of the UN Security Council, has thwarted any significant pressure on Assad, more should have been done to bring a swift end to this conflict.
Seemingly important advancements have been made regarding the ruling party in Syria – notably Kofi Annan’s special envoy meeting this past Saturday (June 30) in Geneva. Upon his request, UN Security Council representatives and EU, Arab League, and Turkish envoys met to consider the 6 Point Peace Plan he drafted in March. Yet, such lack of direct action on the part of Russia in particular for the last 16 months has left the situation in a dire spot: if the international community uses force on Assad, considerable criticism will be levied at the attackers; if the conflict continues as is, deaths will continue to mount for the foreseeable future.
As it stands now, the Assad regime has entrenched itself and likely sees little way out, except to continue fighting. Had the UN imposed stricter sanctions on Syria in early 2011, a peace agreement similar to that of President Saleh’s may have been reached. Though Assad has claimed a desire to do what is best for the people, such reassurances mean little. Until he actually makes concessions or begins a transfer of power, pressure must be increased. Those at Geneva agreed that a cease-fire should once again be sought, after which Annan’s peace plan can be implemented. A significant aspect of any policy moving forward is the creation of a transitional government, involving representatives from both factions. Such a policy would theoretically allow Assad and his senior party members to remain in positions of reduced power, yet the likelihood of this is almost zero. Regardless, the UN and others must act quickly and directly.
In addition to Annan’s peace plan, continued support for the Free Syrian Army and greater pressure on Assad, including sanctions and potential meetings with Russia, may yield a more rapid resolution to the conflict. Similarly, greater Turkish involvement as a result of their lost F-4 jet over Syrian waters may completely change the landscape of the fighting. Though the makeup of the FSA has brought legitimate fears from Western powers, specifically due to Al-Qaeda and Salafist influence in their ranks, support must continue and increase. The United States in particular worries that significant support in the way of arms may give rise to Islamist radicalists akin to 1980s Afghanistan. Regardless, a decrease in support for the FSA would render the last 16 months, and the countless lives lost, a waste.
A significant aspect of support should be monetary backing of those fighting, specifically as an encouragement for defections from the Syrian army, much like what Saudi Arabia is doing already. Doing so would alleviate fears involved with arms supplying and gradually cripple the Syrian army, whilst internally providing armaments for the FSA. The United States must continue its provision of communications equipment and overhead support as the Assad regime utilizes its ability to stem contact out of certain areas, thus thwarting movement by the FSA.
Russia, in particular, must increase its involvement in preventing further bloodshed. As a long time Assad ally, they have been vocal in their support of his regime and their opposition to Western subversion of the government. Russia has agreed to Annan’s peace plan and supports the development of a transitional government. While a positive step, the Russians need to withhold military support of Assad and encourage a diplomatic resolution to the situation, preferably by a meeting of their two leaders and assurances of amnesty elsewhere. Yet Putin and his cabinet appear reluctant to do anything that may appear as encroachment on Syrian sovereignty. Until Russia fully commits to international mediation, the situation looks to remain dire.
Finally, the recent increase in Turkish involvement may take the matter entirely out of Western hands. If Turkey remains uninvolved militarily, they will prove to be an extremely important player in Syria, not least because of their proximity to the fighting. As a hub for dissidents and FSA fighters, Turkey can provide immeasurable assistance to the rebels and encourage desertion from the army. Such pressure from Turkey may encourage concessions and a potential withdrawal of the Assad regime. If, however, Turkey retaliates for its lost F-4 and the verbal attacks Assad has volleyed at them, the situation changes entirely. Regardless, the significant players in this conflict must work together to prevent this 16-month conflict from dragging on any further.Jordan Plahn is an NGJ Voices Contributor and a sophomore Engineering Science and Mechanics major at Virginia Tech. He has lived overseas for 12 years of his life and likes to bring an international perspective to his life and writing.