Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Syrian Options

The Syrian uprising has ballooned into a catasrophe on many levels after several years of fighting and it shows no signs of abating. Let's explore some of the options available to us:

- attempt to negotiate a ceasefire. It's clear that this is unlikely to hold though. It also feels as though a lot of previous attempts have been disengenuous or have been used to stall, seeking better terms, etc... Believe that only if there is greater force applied will be hold (more on this later).
- increased support for the rebellion. It's not entirely clear just what exactly we're supporting here (if concerned about longer term spread of weapons from conflict develop/consider stronger but limited lifetime weapons). It was previously a peaceful uprising but it has since turned into violence with the problem excerbated by foreign combantants and groups who share links with terrorist groups and have other interests besides that of the Syrian people. Violations and various atrocities (from both sides) need to be dealt with as well.
- direct and full intervention/invasion. We've seen Iraq/Afghanistan weren't clear cut and this one is probably going to be just as difficult if more so (how could we possibly make it any worse than it currently is?). It's also becoming clear that surrounding countries are already getting dragged in with regards to both the humantarian problem as well as the conflict itself with many of them being used as launchpads or support for military action in Syria itself. Invasion should be considered an option but only if all other options have been exhausted and have been proven to be unworthwhile.
- de-militarise the conflict. This means that no more (ANY) weapons whether are to be supplied to either side whether that means re-supply, fulfilling existing contracts, etc...
Hopefully, this will also make both sides more amenable to genuine peace talks (clearly, will not work if one side continues to arm though).
- direct but limited intervention. One option that I've been considering is destroying all air-fields/military bases/large clusters of heavy weapons/artillery/munitions and so on, shutting down all borders inbound to Syria (not easy). This will result in a stalemate situation (especially if the neither side are continued to be supplied with weapons).
Hopefully, this will also make both sides more amenable to genuine peace talks (clearly, will not work if one side continues to arm though). Another option that has been widely considered is targeted, direct action against regime leadership. There will of course be repercussions should this avenue be pursued...
- a pure peace keeping intervention? Long range strikes (as outlined in previous point) combined with an international, armed peace keeping ground force (rules of engagement mean that they their primary job will be to defend non combatants, themselves, and finally to maintain peace)? Peace keeping force must have clear agenda and provide prior warning. If there is any untoward activity they have a go ahead to use force to stop it whether that pertains to rebel or regime activity. It can not be stressed enough that this peace keeping force is not about joining in the conflict. It is about stopping it and getting back to normality as quickly as possible. Obvious problem is whether or not the fighting will simply start up again the minute the peace keeping force leaves?
- let them continue to fight it out until it's conclusion. Cynical but it also means that one side is likely to be a more complete victor which may result in a more stable long term situation.
- offer the current regime safe passage out. Unlikely to be accepted given some of the messages that have been sent out.
- don't bother trying to implement a ceasefire prior to creating a transition plan or running an election? If both sides can just maintain peace on their side of the conflict (clear lines of demarcation and buffer zones so that we can minimise break outs of fighting) while elections (obvious problems here especially vote those relating to 'tampering') are running perhaps we can figure out just exactly what the Syrian people actually want (this will also mean that we can disavow everyone of all possible doubt over what the desire of the actual Syrian population is). Who's in charge of running election? A combination of existing regime/rebels/neighbours with international observers? How can you when so many people are displaced (people in refugee camps in particular)? Require identification for them to participate while existing people can simply show up at polling booths. How much will displaced people skew the results of any potential election. Obvious questions are, whether they want existing regime or rebels to succeed? What should be the timeline going forward? How is normal life going to be restored? etc...
- break up of the country should be considered if it means a cessation of hostilities in spite of warnings.
- half baked measures so far have proven unlikely to turn the tide. If there is intervention (in any form whether diplomatic, military, etc...) there must be far greater force behind it to simply get it over and done with so that everyone can get on with their lives.
- don't go into talks with any pre-conditions. Push hard but give peace a genuine chance. Not sure how some people can be so optimistic that UN June 12 plan has a genuine chance given the fact that the conflict has continued unabated and esclated for several years (I've said before and I'll say it again defense, intelligence, and defense should work together and only be pressing harder will be able to force a cessation of hostilities.).
- provide flares and other camouflage options because it's clear that most of the weapons involved are fairly simple/non-guidance based. Likelihood that they will resort to carpet/cluster bombing even though they are already using makeshift weapons?

Key questions/issues:
- can you honestly say that Assad is fit and do the Syrian people want him to lead Syria?
- if there is intervention and there is a power vacuum is this worse than what would occur if we didn't intervene?
- the style/size of the intervention. Direct, continued covert, etc...
- even if we aren't directly involved what are the indirect impacts of continued conflict in Syria?
- will any leadership be better/worse than the previous one?
- what other moves are other stakeholders likely to make should further direct/indirect action occur?
- even if there is a transition is it going to be representative and will it hold?
- if there is intervention does the International community support or lead?
- are current peace talk offers genuine?
- limited public support/appetite for intervention.
- the longer the fight goes on the more desperate people have become. Concern is that either solution breaks down because new leadership may be just as bad or worse than previously or else it breaks down simply because they aren't strong enough to deal with the issues that continue to stem from this conflict.
- is this a situation that needs to be 'managed' because it can't be fixed completely in future without long term commitment?
- something which needs to be kept in mind is that many International bodies need reform or are simply losing their relevance. I think that the after several recent incidents the United Nations is beginning to fall into this category as well. In which case, I think the question we should all be asking ourselves is whether some  the power plays that are occurring are really worth it. At some point this isn't a question of interests, it's a question of humanity. It's a question of being able to distinguish between right and wrong, between human and primitive animal. If the United Nations doesn't give us the ability to do what is required, what is right in order to end this situation then the International community must surely see fit to either change the existing frameworks stopping us from doing so or find a way of working around them.