The author argues that in the absence of consensus in the Security Council, the United Nation has no good option in dealing with the Syrian crisis.
In February 1982, thousands of Syrian Civilians were killed by the government in response to an uprising instigated by the Muslim Brotherhood [1,2,3]. The bloody Hama uprising serves a precursor to the current unrest sweeping across the Arab Nation .
Syria is located in one of the most strategic areas in the world. It is bordered by Nato Member Turkey to the north, Israel/Palestine to the Southwest, Jordan to the south, Iraq to the east and Lebanon in the west [5,6].
Syria’s government is allied to Iran and Hezbollah, making it a strategic foe of Israel and the United States [7,8,].. Syria has an open immigration policy for the region, therefore Arabs do not require visas to enter the country. Due to this system, the United States has repeatedly accused the Syrian government of allowing foreign fighters to participate in the War in Iraq [10, 11, 12, 13].
The current uprising can trace its roots back to numerous coups and counter-coups that took place during the 1960’s .
Hafez al Assad, father of the current President, and member of the minority Alawite Shia religious sect, came to power in a 1966 coup. He was a member of the Syrian branch of the Baath party. Assad solidified his power by eliminating party rivals in 1970 .
Since the coup, relationship between the Sunni and Shia Alawi sect has been strained in Syria. Hafez al- Assad launched numerous crackdowns against the majority Sunni population during the Islamic Uprising between 1976 and 1982. Most of the movements crushed by the government were led by the Muslim Brotherhood .
Bashar al-Assad, son of the late Hafez, was seen as a moderate reformer when he took power in the year 2000.
Many observers thought that an uprising in Syria was unlikely due to its feared security apparatus and Assad’s support among minorities .
Assad’s response to the uprising involved offering future reforms and sending in the military to stop protests . The majority of clashes have taken place in Hama, Homs, Idlib and Darra. However, protests and bombings have begun to take place in Damascus and Aleppo [18, 19].
The protesters have shown that they have staying power. Despite thousands of deaths and a serious collaborative effort to put the uprising down, daily protests have continued.
However, the longer the protests have gone on, the more militarized it has become. Thousands of soldiers have defected, and many have joined the rebel Free Syrian Army which is based out of neighboring Turkey [20, 21, 22]. Many of these defectors act as militias in various cities. There are also fears that militant organizations like Al-Qaeda, especially its affiliates in Iraq, may be travelling into Syria to join the fight against the government .
The Syrian government, while shaken by the protests, still seems to be in a position to defend itself for the long haul. Assad still retains the loyalty of most of the Shia Alawite officers in the military [24, 25]. Further complicating the situation is Syria’s alleged possession of an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons .
The United States, Turkey and the Arab league have put sanctions against the Syrian government [28, 29].
Any action by the United Nations must be carefully considered. Russia and China have vetoed any attempt by the security council to level serious sanction against the Assad regime [29, 30]. Russia has its Mediterranean naval base in Syria and considers Assad a staunch ally . Russia is also believed to be supplying Syria with weapons to protect its territorial water and air space [32.33].
A U.N observer mission has been sent to monitor a ceasefire based on the Kofi Annan Peace Initiative. However, since the opposition is fragmented, any peace deal is difficult to negotiate. Furthermore, many believe Assad is simply using the mission to buy time or manipulate the international community away from stronger action .
The security council has few good options left to deal with Syria. One choice would be to put stronger sanctions against the government. This is made impossible unless Russia and China support the move. A no-fly zone seems extremely unlikely, because of logistical difficulties and opposition in the Security Council.
The Annan Peace Initiative is the best option available for the United Nations. However it appears increasingly unlikely that any peaceful solution can be reached unless Assad and his backers decide to leave Syria.
Syria has few democratic or civil government institutions in place to replace the vacuum that would be left by the departure of the Assad government. The opposition is broadly working under the umbrella group of the Syrian National Council. However, because of disunity, and a lack of democratic organizations in Syria, a smooth transition to a new government will be highly difficult for the group .
Estimates of deaths due to the uprising range from 7,000 to 11,547. In addition 35,000 people were wounded and 240,000 have been displaced [36,37,38].
There is a strong possibility that the next few years might see a further downward spiral of violence in Syria. The worst case scenario would involve a full-scale civil war in along religious and sectarian divisions. In a prolonged religious civil war, fundamentalist from both sides will gain prominence and power.
For the United Nations, there is no longer any good options to deal with the Syrian crisis. As long as the Security Council is divided on the issue, the largest international organization has little alternative but to await the latest news of death and destruction. As the old Chinese saying goes, the U.N has no choice but to “Watch the fires burning across the river .”
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