Too Little, Too Late Reply

Why the failure of the Syrian ceasefire proves the need for military intervention

By Dan Yonker

The small flicker of hope that emerged from the rubble of Syria last Thursday was extinguished almost as soon as it appeared. The proposed four-day ceasefire, agreed on to honor the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, lasted barely four hours before it was broken on Friday. Aside from the overly optimistic peace brokers who arranged the agreement, few believed it would produce any real outcome. Most Syrians saw this coming as soon as the ceasefire was declared. The government offered more reasons to break the peace than to actually adhere to the proposition. The opposition inspired even less confidence in the call to temporarily end hostilities; the ad-hoc composition of the rebel groups prevents any real cohesion for decision making. The Syrian Free Army agreed to respect the truce if Assad followed through, while some groups vehemently opposed any ceasefire, and others simply remained indifferent.

The very structure of the holiday truce set it up for failure. Although endorsed by the United Nations, it was not to be enforced by any outside entity. It was essentially a self-imposed measure, with no real consequences if it was broken. Just like the April 2012 peace agreement, this one collapsed almost as soon as it began. These failures illustrate that the possibility of a diplomatic resolution to hostilities has expired. Negotiated ceasefires will not end the conflict. After two public attempts, and countless hours of lobbying by the international community, Assad has shown that he is committed to the long haul. When a leader makes this decision, there is little hope for compromise. International pressure has achieved little, sanctions have proven ineffective, and empty threats have been repeatedly ignored by Assad’s government. The latest failure demonstrates that strong words must be backed by strong action. The next step must be military intervention, for the sake of the Syrian people, and the stability of the region.

The issue of humanitarian intervention has become a tricky question, especially after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Some fear that repeated incursions will set a bad precedent, eroding state sovereignty. However, the humanitarian crisis in Syria requires that something be done soon. While an exact figure is difficult to determine, most groups agree that the number of casualties to date in Syria is around 30,000. Over 358,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries, and the United Nations estimates that 2.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance. Qatar has even gone so far as to publicly accuse Assad’s regime of committing genocide. According to the United Nation’s doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, the international community is obliged to protect Syrian citizens when the government fails to do so, including using collective force. Given these conditions, there is not only a legal justification, but also a moral obligation to intervene.

Aside from this humanitarian responsibility, the security of the entire region is also at stake. Turkey has experienced this first hand, losing a fighter plane to Syrian air defenses in June 2012, as well as a recent Syrian artillery strike that killed Turkish citizens. These attacks provide a legal justification for NATO intervention. According to Article Five of the Washington Treaty, any direct attack on a NATO member is an attack on all, and permits the use of collective self-defense. Invoking Article Five would create a precedent that would allow the establishment of a buffer zone around the Turkish border, or the imposition of a no fly zone over Syria. Turkey’s collective security is dependent on containing the situation to prevent it further destabilizing an already volatile area. In addition to the clashes with Turkey, violence has started to cross the border into Lebanon and Jordan. The war in Syria is quickly moving toward a region-wide conflict, if it remains unchecked.

Any military intervention in Syria will require dedication to achieving real change. As the body count rises, world leaders no longer have the luxury of waiting to see how the situation unfolds. The inability to broker any kind of meaningful ceasefire clearly illustrates the need for international action. For the sake of the people, and the security of the Middle East, it is time to step up to the plate. Combat psychologist Lt. Col. Dave Grossman offers an interesting anecdote on wolves and sheepdogs that is very apropos. Wolves, he says, attack the population, showing no regard for suffering or loss of life. Sheepdogs, on the other hand, are responsible for protecting the herd and confronting the wolves. Right now, Syria has plenty of wolves; it could use a few more sheepdogs.

Dan Yonker is a Staff Writer at the Jerusalem Review. He is currently a Research Assistant for the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University. His views are his own and do not reflect those of his employers.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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