The crisis in Syria has been going on for two years now, with little intervention from the US government. Most recently, the Obama administration announced that it would begin providing arms to the rebels. Many critics say this is too little and too late, while others (including the majority of the American public) think the US should stay out completely. In the face of this division between public opinion and administrative action, policy and international relations experts have put forth a number of alternative solutions worth examining.
No Kill Zones
Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former director of policy planning at the US Department of State, proposes that the solution to Syria is to establish ‘no-kill zones’ near the borders of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The no-kill zones would be protected by the Syrian opposition, who would be armed by sympathetic countries. The assistance would be revoked if the rebels used the weapons aggressively, that is in any way other than in defending the no-kill zone.
Slaughter suggests that this strategy would give people a designated safe place in Syria, encouraging more soldiers to defect, weakening Assad’s army. Critics argue that the no-kill zones would be indefensible and therefore ineffective. Even if a portion of Assad’s army defects, his troops have the benefit of access to heavy artillery that could penetrate the no-kill zones even with a smaller military.
Arms for the Opposition
Another option put forth is to take a more aggressive stance in the conflict and provide arms to the rebels. The former secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, fears that refusing to support the opposition will lead to the same tragic results as when the US refused to arm Bosnians against the Serbs in the 1990s—according to Wolfowitz, this decision drew out the conflict and allowed the Srebrenica massacre to take place.
Wolfowitz specifically prescribes defensive weapons—no heavy artillery or tanks—that can be used by the rebels to protect themselves. He believes that if the opposition remains weak, the US will eventually need to decide between direct military intervention and watching as the ruling regime slaughters innocent people as in Srebrenica. Opponents of this plan say that it assumes the government is the only side doing the killing. Security analyst Charles Shoebridge writes that “Rebel tactics of attacking and fighting from densely populated areas, itself a war crime, also inevitably result in heavy weapon use and civilian casualties – as now at previously peaceful Homs and Aleppo, as in the recent past at Gaza and Fallujah. Further arming the rebels will only increase such attacks.”
Opposition to Drop Arms
Some propose a solution almost opposite to Wolfowitz’s and promote a diplomatic/political solution over the use of physical force. Daniel Serwer, professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, suggests that the best option is for the US to encourage the rebels to lay down their arms and take up a peaceful protest.
He argues that “If the oppositions resorts to violence, it helps the authorities: by responding with sometimes random violence, they hope to re-instill fear.” By turning their efforts to a non-violent protest, Serwer believes that Assad’s opponents can debase the culture of fear the government uses to maintain the status quo. Even if this solution was a sure-fire solution, it is quite possibly too late to implement such a strategy. Historically, when violence escalates to the levels seen in Syria, the situation has only diffused in the face of more violence.