Time to Move Beyond the Annan Plan on Syria
No one will blame Kofi Annan for a lack of effort. Over the past few months, the former UN Secretary-General has worked tirelessly to peacefully resolve the ongoing turmoil in Syria. And yet, with the bloodshed continuing to escalate, Annan's peace plan has not come to pass.
The Syrian government's continued defiance of Annan's six-point peace plan, coupled with its ongoing brutality towards its enemies at home, clearly indicates that this regime values power above all else, even if it comes at the expense of its own people. In light of this reality, it is time for the United States and the international community to take firm steps to bring about the end of violence in Syria and secure a transfer of power from the Assad regime before the violence in Syria truly spirals out of control.
In theory, the most straightforward way for the international community to stop this violence, of course, would be to remove Assad from power through a secure transfer of leadership through an internationally supported agreement. However, in order for such an action to take place, it would need to have the backing of the UN Security Council. Obtaining this authorization would be problematic, as Russia and China have consistently blocked the Security Council from adopting meaningful measures to deal with the Assad regime. Russia, in particular, has described itself as being "categorically against" any sort of foreign intervention in the Syrian crisis. This stance should come as no surprise to those familiar with the nature of the Russia-Syria relationship, in which Syria provides Russia with a market for Russian-made arms, and naval access to the Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, the United States should continue to apply diplomatic pressure on the Russian government, as Russian support would allow the international community to consider a broader range of actions in response to the Syrian regime's atrocities.
With UN-backed solution currently off the table, the US must consider alternative methods of undermining the Assad regime and alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people. Several commentators have suggested that the US should spearhead the construction of so-called "safe zones" in the countries neighboring Syria, namely Turkey and Jordan. These zones, which, ideally, would be protected by a US or multinational force, could serve a dual purpose of providing sanctuary for refugees and acting as a staging area for the Syrian opposition. Furthermore, since these zones would be constructed outside Syrian borders, the Syrian government, and its Russian backers, would be hard-pressed to claim a violation of Syrian sovereignty (though one could certainly make the argument that, in light of the atrocities that it has inflicted against its own people, the Syrian government has forfeited any such claim).
Beyond the construction of safe zones, US options with regards to Syria move into a murkier legal territory. As Russia and Iran continue to provide arms to the Assad regime, some have suggested the need to bring an end to the flow of weapons into the conflict zone. This could be a tricky proposition, however, if Russia and Iran refuse to comply voluntarily. In Foreign Policy, Andrew Tabler proposes a novel solution:
"The United States and its allies could establish a naval quarantine along Syria's coastline similar to the international patrols that intercept arms shipments to Lebanon destined for Hezbollah. This, however, would seem to require a U.N. Security Council resolution -- which Russia would likely veto. A possible way around that could be to establish a naval and/or air quarantine of Syria with legal support from the Arab League, akin to the legitimacy given by the Organization of American States to a similar measure during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The question, however, is what happens when Russia and Iran challenges it."
Similarly, other potential solutions, such as the US directly arming the Syrian rebels or establishing safe zones within Syrian territory, could be challenged on grounds of violating Syrian sovereignty, and thus would lack the firm legitimacy of an UN-backed action.
For now, the United States should adopt a two-pronged approach to the Syrian conflict. First, it should construct safe zones in Turkey and Jordan, in order to provide an outlet for Syrian refugees and a staging area for the Syrian opposition. Second, the US should shift its focus from pressuring Syria directly, to pressuring Russia to support UN-backed action against the Assad regime, as being able to craft a solution through the UN would allow the US and its allies to take the truly decisive actions needed to bring a transfer of power to Syria and end the violence in the country.
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