It appears likely that the US will launch strikes against Syria.
It also appears increasingly likely that the US will act largely unilaterally, with Britain’s House of Lords voting against military intervention, France non committal and no other major Western governments showing much enthusiasm. Additionally, the UN and NATO do not support strikes.
What began as peaceful protests, morphed into an armed uprising and descended into civil war, is now arguably the most desperate humanitarian emergency in the world. Over 100,000 lives have been lost and 1.8 million Syrians have taken refuge, in neighbouring countries ill equipped to cope with such an influx. The use of sarin gas last month, allegedly by the regime forces, has been the catalyst for the US and its allies to become more involved.
Putting to one side the arguments for and against the legality of military intervention, which are important and are being debated throughout the world, one important question that has been absent from the conversation is, what will follow any strike?
The US seems intent on flexing its military might and asserting its superpower status, by launching ‘surgical strikes’ against ‘strategic targets,’ however the Obama administration has not presented the action as part of an overall plan.
There are many questions that are left unanswered when considering a military strike in Syria:
- What does the US hope to achieve from the attacks?
- Is the hope that an attack will substantially weaken the regime and allow the rebels to advance?
- Are strikes merely symbolic in response to the sarin gas attacks?
- Does the US intend to once again ‘stay until the job is done?’
- What if Assad uses sarin gas or any other chemical or biological weapons again?
- What will be done to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties?
- Most importantly, how will the attacks advance an end to the conflict?
The rhetoric from the US has stirred emotions from the Iraq invasion in 2003 and it is rightfully seeking approval from Congress and collecting evidence to prepare a case. However, the apparent haste with which they want to act is making many nervous and sceptical. Once again though, how do strikes fit in to an overall plan for ending the conflict?
The Arab League has stated their want to see Assad punished for his actions, however prefer the forum of an International Court, with Assad being tried as a war criminal. They could not condone a US led attack on regime targets, in a statement released over the weekend.
The best approach to ending the Syrian war is still diplomacy. This is recognised by the UN, governments around the world and international NGO’s. In fact, there appears more of a groundswell for a distasteful form of peace, than for US intervention and a continual or increased level of violence that has gripped the country since March 2011.
Assad’s regime is well equipped – thanks to Russia and Iran – has sufficient support and is more organised than the opposition factions. The likelihood of US strikes acting as a prequel to an overthrow of Assad is highly unlikely, some say fanciful. The most likely scenario, following any strike, is the continual arm wrestling and haemorrhaging of refugees, a situation in which we would be exactly where we are now.
International Crisis Group – Syria Statement 01 September 2013