Two years on from the eruption of the Arab Spring, Kathy Dillon discusses the Syrian revolt…
It’s been two years since the eruption of the Arab Spring. What began as a democratic revolution against oppressive dictatorships has developed into a region of politically unstable nations.
Complex bloody civil wars have engulfed Arab nations past the point of crisis; however, it is Syria that has proved the most complex and deadly revolts of the Arab Spring.
Until now manifestations across Arab regions have only been tacitly supported by western powers. Foreign military intervention has been critically rejected by most western states, in part because of the disastrous consequences of the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, but moreover because of the long-term financial costs of such interventions.
Preferring diplomacy to military support the west has advocated indirect support rather than direct, to the Middle East crisis.
However, the recent chemical attacks carried out by the Syrian regime, against its civilians have resurfaced the question of foreign intervention in the on-going Syrian civil war. On 21 August the Syrian regime allegedly carried out a large-scale chemical attack on civilians in a Damascene suburb, though this has yet to be proven. It is estimated about 1400 Syrians, mostly children and women died.
Ban-Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the UN, described it as the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century. As images and videos of the massacre flooded across the Internet, the west was forced to take notice, forced to consider negotiating the price of freedom for Syrian civilians, forced to consider what route of action to take when diplomacy doesn’t work.
With a death toll nearing 100,000 civilians and over two million Syrians displaced, when is the right time for the international community to take a direct role in helping the Syrian people? Perhaps if we first look at why intervention in Syria is so unpopular, we will better understand what, if any benefits military intervention could bring to the conflict.
Syria has a plurality of significance in the Middle East. Politically, geographically and demographically the country poses a range of obstacles. It has the second largest military after Egypt, counting 500,000 soldiers and possesses a huge stockpile of chemical weapons; the country has significant military force, which would not be overcome inexpensively or without difficulty.
The country is religiously divided, between the Shi’ite minority who rule and the Sunni majority rebel fighters, and this adds an ethnic dimension to the civil war. The legitimacy and loyalty of the rebel opposition is ambiguous. Many rebels have radical Islamist and terrorist links.
As an ally of Iran, China and Russia, Syria also exercises a certain amount of international support. Very quickly the humanitarian catastrophe becomes overshadowed by an ideological struggle of West versus East, with old cold war scepticism defining the rules of engagement. The Syrian civil war is a complex political minefield. Is intervention the best or even a viable solution?
Entering Syria without the backing of the UN security council would further escalate the tension between America and Russia. Assad’s regime will not fall easily; it will require significant military commitment. Civilians will no doubt be killed in the process.
The fall of the Assad regime will not necessarily guarantee peace or stability in the region. Establishing democracy takes years of financial and political support, exactly what western powers do not want to commit to. Yet, non-intervention will see the war drag on, quite possibly destabilizing neighbouring regions, while innocent Syrians are systematically murdered.
Neither intervention nor non-intervention holds the key to ending the Syrian crisis indefinitely. Neither solution comes without high costs. At the same time inaction is not an option. The Syrian crisis will not solve itself.
Foreign powers now have to make a choice of whether they are willing to work strategically together, through both diplomatic and military mediums to resolve the humanitarian crisis and bring about politically stability, or whether they will resort to Cold War politics, letting power struggles overshadow the real root causes of the war creating perfect conditions for anti-western ideology to flourish.
The crisis will not be solved over night, and while the issue is complex, it is wrong to believe the international community can have no positive effect on the Syrian situation, if only from a humanitarian view.
In the end it will be the innocent Syrians who will suffer unjustly as foreign governments debate the value of their lives.