Having seen news reports and video footage of tanks shelling civilian neighboods in Homs and other cities in Syria, it is now clear that China and Russia by their vetoes of Security Council action on February 4 have in effect given Bashar Al-Assad a green light to proceed with his barbaric actions to silence the once-peaceful opposition.
He appears intent on teaching his opponents a lesson they will never forget, like the lesson his father gave Hama in 1982 when he massacred 10-20,000 or more people.
It now appears that there is no reason, no diplomacy, that will stop Al-Assad’s onslaught against opponents to his regime–and entire civilian neighborhoods in which they may have been based or taken refuge.
There was some hope for a few days after the Chinese and Russian vetoes of the Security Council resolution on February 4 that Russia, in particular, and also China, would act forcefully to halt the killing in Syria. They had the leverage with their vetos to impose forceful constraints on al-Assad. Instead, they expressed support for his regime, in effect giving him a green light to esclate the violence.
See Rod Norland, “Syrian Allies Reject Calls for Unified Pressure to Halt Violence,” New York Times, February 21, 2012.
Consequently, the blood that has spilled and is spilling in Syria is on their hands. They are morally and poltically responsible for blocking Security Council action–even the very mild Security Council action proposed in the February 4 resolution they vetoed.
Today we are reminded that when we think of China, we need still–despite the progress in the country–to think of Tiananmen Square.
We are reminded that when we think of Russia, we need still–despite the veneer of democracy–to think of Soviet tanks in Warsaw, in East Berlin, in Hungary and in Prague, and of the horrors committed in putting down the rebellion in Chechnya.
The situation has worsened. The February 4 resolution, even if adopted today, would no longer be sufficient to halt the killing by the government in Syria. What we are witnessing is Srebrenice II. The wanton slaughter of innocents, while the world stands helplessly by.
Nor will arming the opposition produce any short-term results, though it could tilt the playing field in a way which would quicken defections from the government’s armed forces.
What is needed now in Syria is the same kind of military response the international community, after much delay, ultimately provided in Libya.
Syria’s air defenses need to be taken down, so that humanitarian corridors can be established and maintained inside Syria. How this might be achieved is far from clear, and fraught with risks.
The crisis contains the potential for ultimate escalation to nuclear war with the Russians, so military actions should be taken cautiously and carefully communicated to the Russians.
Without Chinese and Russian acquiescence, military action would entail acting outside the literal framework of the United Nations Charter.
One avenue of legal justification might involve “regional enforcement action” by the Arab League. There is precedent for an interpretation of Article 53(1) of the charter as permitting such action provided it is not disapproved by the Security Council. Another avenue would be to craft a resolution in the General Assembly somewhat like the “Uniting for Peace” resolution the Assembly adopted in 1950 to support sending troops to South Korea. It would be a new precedent, a “Uniting to Protect Civilians Against Crimes Against Humanity” resolution.
The Arab League could impose a “voluntary” arms embargo on Syria, and urge Egypt to close the Suez canal to transit by Russian, Iranian or other navy ships or vessels carrying military cargo to Syria.
The Russians and the Chinese have brought the situation to its current state. It is regrettable that the Security Council is unlikely to endorse military action to protect the civilian population of Syria–at least for now and within the time frame that is required to save thousands of civilian lives.
Al-Assad’s commission of crimes against humanity and now war crimes, on an immense scale, have produced a situation in which the following assumptions appear valid and are likely to hold:
1. There can be no negotiated solution with Bashar al-Assad, now that he has committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and other gross violations of human rights on a very wide scale.
2. Diplomacy alone is unlikely to halt al-Assad’s murderous assault on his people.
3. The Syrian government’s assaults with tanks and other heavy weapons on civilians and civilian neighborhoods must be stopped, by whatever means may be required.
If these assaults are allowed to proceed unchecked, full-scale civil war is likely to ensue–perhaps quickly, with great risks of drawing other powers into the war in an explosive mix which could lead to a larger war in the Middle East.
The situation in the Middle East is extraordinarily volatile at the moment. An Israeli strike on Iran cannot be ruled out, and is indeed an interesting possibility given National Security Advisor Tom Donilon’s quick trip to Israel this week.
What is critical is that the Syrian regime receive clear signals that they must halt their military actions against the civilian population, or they themselves will be halted by military means; and that they will be held accountable before international and national tribunals in the future for war crimes and crimes against humanity which they commit.
President Barack Obama is now called upon to lead the international community. From the front, not the back.
Immediate actions are required:
1. Referral to the ICC. A resolution granting authority to the International Criminal Court to investigate the crimes against humanity and war crimes being committed in Syria should be brought to a public vote at the U.N. Security Council, at the earliest opportunity.
2. Development of military options. Development of military options to halt the killing by taking down Syria’s air defenses, establishment of international humanitarian corridors and safe havens, and the undertaking of whatever military action may be required to maintain and protect those corridors and safe areas.
3. Deployment of military assets to the Eastern Mediterranean. The United States and other Allied powers should move aircraft, aircraft carriers and battle groups toward the Eastern Mediterranean, to be in position to carry out military options if so required.
President Obama was saved from a total fiasco in Libya by France and Great Britain, who took the lead in initiating military action against Qadaffi in those first critical days when Qadaffi’s tanks were approaching the outskirts of Benghazi. That is not likely to happen again.
Now the ball is in his hands.
The Trenchant Observer