Syria: It is easy to send weapons, but it is very difficult to remove them

There is no ideal solution to the situation in Syria. According to Reuters Obama authorizes secret U.S. support for Syrian rebels.

Questions:

1. Though we have only some info from the open sources I think we can conclude that it is happening. What kind of impact it has? Are Syrian rebels more organized and able to resist the pressure from Assad regime precisely because of foreign support and without it they will be crushed?

2. In general, would you say it is a right or wrong idea to support Syrian rebels with intelligence, material, training and even weapons?

Answers:

Floor Janssen, Research Fellow on Arab Region, Netherlands Institute for International Relations ‘Clingendael’

1. The cash and weapon flows, as well as other forms of support reaching the Syrian opposition is definitely helping to keep up the struggle against Assad. The regime would have made far more military advances if the opposition wouldn’t have the ability to strike back. However, the fact that the regime has been unable to crush the opposition can for a large part be accounted to the guerilla-style fighting tactic of the opposition. This enables the opposition to uphold its battle despite being outnumbered by the army. In terms of organization, I believe that the local structures of the FSA and Local Coordination Committees are quite effective regardless of foreign help. They have proven to be able to organize all kinds of public protests as well as coordinated attacks against the regime, despite suffering human losses and military setbacks, for over 17 months.

2. If you consider the appalling security situation of ordinary Syrians, and the tremendous human loss, sending arms to help topple the Assad regime and its tyranny as fast as possible might seem like the best option. Moreover, it is tempting to respond to the FSA’s continuous call for more weapons and material assistance. The decision to send weapons into a war-torn country is however extremely dangerous. It may speed up and ‘outcome’ of the conflict, but it also has far-raching long-term consequences. It is easy to send weapons into a society, but it is very difficult to remove those weapons after the war is over. Weapon-dependency, even amongst ordinary civilians, is a serious consequence. Coupled with mounting sectarian tensions, retaliation, and a possible power vacuum after the ousting of Assad, the presence of weapons in Syria may drag the conflict into years to come.

James BlakeIndependent Intelligence and Geopolitical Consultant

1. Over recent weeks, the rebels appear to have become more operationally savvy and tactically astute. For instance, they are increasingly targeting the Syrian military’s weak points through ‘hit and run’ operations, while at the same time seeking to capture strategically important buildings – such as police stations in Aleppo – as part of a more focused strategy. Previously there was less focus and a less unified approach. Given this is a recent shift and coincides with reports that the US and other countries are increasing logistical and intelligence support – foreign assistance certainly seems to have played an important role.

Over the medium-term – with increasing support from countries, including the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – this is likely to put further pressure on the Al-Assad government.

2. There is no ideal solution to the situation in Syria. With diplomatic progress stalled, the death count rising by the day and analysts concerned about the violence spreading to Lebanon, and the risk of radical extremists gaining access to chemical weapons, support to the rebels is perhaps the only realistic policy option. But, it is important to tie this support to short and longer-term objectives to bring peace in Syria. In other words, to use this assistance to help ensure that a post-Assad Syria can establish a unity government and thereafter democratically-held elections.

Ahron BregmanDepartment of War Studies, Kings College London

1. We know that President Obama gave the green light to the CIA to aid Syrian opposition forces to oust Assad. There’s here a lot of domestic US politics to be taken into consideration, as Obama is responding to Republican criticism for not doing enough to help the rebels; don’t forget that Obama is now in the midst of an election campaign and his support to the rebels, or at least the news about this support being made public, should be seen within the US elections context. The failure of the UN Security Council to agree on tougher sanctions against Damascus last month is also relevant here, as the pictures coming out of Syria are horrific and people expect the US to do something about that. So if it can’t be done through the UN, the US feels that it must find other avenues to show some support to the Syrian opposition. But the support, at least so far, is not of lethal weapons so this could help the rebels somehow, but not at the moment be the decisive element leading to any rebel breakthrough against the Assad regime.

2. The problem is that no one really understands the real nature of the Syrian opposition to Assad. Who are these guys, at all? The danger is that aid given to (unknown or little understood) opposition groups might eventually find its way to terror organisation. This, I want to remind you, happened in the past: when the USSR fought in Afghanistan, the Americans supported the mujahidin who fought the Soviets. The mujahidin later turned their back on the US, became the core of Al Qaida and the rest is history.

Tuomo MelasuoProfessor, Research director, Tampere Peace Research Institute, University of Tampere

1. It seems that this foreign aid has been there already since many months and in many different forms, that is military material, financial and intelligence. Personally I am convinced that this foreign aid is only aggravating the conflict, not solving it. And aggravating the conflict does not contribute to the emergence of democratic and pluralist Syria in future. On the contrary it deteriorates the political relations between different stakeholders, the human rights and the emergence of a sane civil society. The continous arming of all the sides of the conflict does only perpetue the conflict and the suffering of the Syrians.

Bachir Al-Assad regime is already now unable to destroy the opposition. But this is not depending on the military situation but on the political. Politically there is no way to return to statut quo ante. So, there can only be a political solution to the conflict. Crushing the rebel military forces does not mean that Assad regime has won anything, there is no military solution in the Syrian crises.

2. A man of science as me usually does not pronounce on the dichotomy right and wrong but proposes to evaluate the reasons, meansings and consequences of different phenomena. So … The demission of Kofi Annan 2 August and the Rome declaration of Sant’Egidio at the end of July 2012, produced by a variety of different Syrian actors, very strongly emphasize the importance of the political solution as the only possibility. The performance of the UN Security council is a deception. A kind of stupid and compleatly useless juxtaposition between three European and US members in one hand and China and Russia in other hand has occured. We could expect from the SC more innovation and hability to find out ways how the Syrian crises could be lightened. So the international community should find ways to propose a political process instead of trying to play a card in the ongoing civil war. An attempt to find a military solution is serving only the foreign interests. The international community has very few tools to intervene in the political relations between the different components of the Syrian society. Still, they are the key of the soution. The exemple of the Community of the Sant’Egidio in 26 July 2012 in Rome is an exemple that different Syrian policy actors can be brought together. This is a beginning of a way out of this violent crises.

Andrea TetiLecturer, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen

What I can say is just to add a caveat to the general reflection on Syria, namely that the outside actors intervening in Syria have a range of interests, which are not simply Assad or a ‘democratic transition’. Syria’s involvement in Lebanon, its relationship to Iran, and its borders with Israel (Golan, Palestine), and Turkey and Iraq (Kurds), not to mention its relative proximity to Chechnya, all make it the centre of a complex web of international interests, some of which – I’m thinking of Saudi, for example – may not be unhappy with the chaotic scenario which appears to be emerging in Syria.

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