Syria is a hot talking point, but why? And why should you care?
Conflict and political instability is nothing new to the civilians of Syria. Since the country gained independence from France in 1946 things haven’t really been all too sunny. The first couple of years after independence Syria has witnessed a wave of political coups spanning from 1949 to 1971.
Things simmered down for a bit and the Syrian people experienced some reprieve from the endless violence. But now we’re back to the unrest which has plagued this region for almost 67 years.
WHO’S IN CHARGE?
Despite the complex issues eating away at the Syrian people the country’s political history is actually fairly simple. The country has been under the firm rule of the Baathist party since 1947. The Ba’aath party, currently led by Bashar al-Assad, is viewed as a socialist movement but civilians have been demanding political change, economic freedom and civil liberties. And this is the core of the battle in Syria. People are making their discontent with their leaders known. And contrary to what most people believe, the current chaos in Syria has nothing to do with religion.
SPRING HAS SPRUNG
In March 2011 Syria became the poster child of the anger seen across most parts of the Middle East. Soon Syrians took to the streets in demonstrations against al-Assad’s regime. Clearly these protests did not go down well with the political leaders and instead of attending to the nation’s grievances al-Assad’s government replied with extreme measures including the kidnapping, torture and killing of numerous protestors. Naturally civilians fired back in full force.
Now, more than two years later Syria is embroiled in a civil war which has caught the world by surprise. Regarded as an extension of the Arab Spring Syria entered a highly turbulent time where violence and bloodshed became common sight on city streets. Civilian rebel forces were soon taking up arms in an attempt to protect its people against the government onslaught. Entire neighbourhoods were trashed in a matter of days and growing tension between military and civil combatants has dragged the country into a dizzying downward spiral.
Since 2011’s heated protests the Syrian unrest has experienced a plateau of sorts – not much changed over the two years of instability. But on Wednesday 21 August the nation reached a sudden turning point when chemical weapons were used on civilians. Preliminary reports have confirmed the use of a nerve gas during the early hours of Wednesday morning. However, whether the attack was launched by government military or the rebels is still unclear. For now the report makes the assumption that Assaad is behind the mass murder. It further states that this is not the first time the Syrian government has made use of chemical weapons to keep its people in check. Read the full declassified report here.
As news of the chemical attack hit newswires politicians across the globe weighed in on what they believe to be the best resolution. While some country leaders views Assad as a disorderly teen who needs to be disciplined, others have made it clear that foreign involvement would only make things worse.
The first hurdle to overcome is the fact that Syria has not signed a single treaty or accepted any legal obligation that outlaws the use of poisonous gas against its own people. However, they did sign the Geneva Gas Protocol but never really paid much attention to the prohibition of “the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids” commitment. But even if the Syrian government did use gas the Geneva act only covers wars between states and not civil wars. In essence a chemical attack in this case is technically not illegal. So how do you infiltrate a country if you have no legal backing?
However, the US is adamant that forceful action is the only way to bring a quick and effective end to the chaos. President Barack Obama has made it clear that military action is his first choice but the rest of the world is still tiptoeing around the idea. Others are questioning the idea of intervention altogether, stating that this is a Syrian matter and should be left in the hands of the Syrian people. Let them protect themselves.
PLAN OF ACTION
So what are the options? The first, and most obvious, is military action. A rocket launch would most likely be the most effective method. But with the US and UK being a bit war weary at this stage they’re not jumping at the chance to launch a few rockets on Assad’s people. Political analysts have also made it clear that any violent interventions could exacerbate the current situation. But let’s assume the US goes ahead with their “limited, narrow” military strike. What are the possible results of such a move?
- The Middle East is known for not being the United States’ biggest fan. Should Obama’s soldiers enter Syria there would most likely be a noticeable surge in anti-Americanism. This would lead to Assad and his supporters becoming even more determined to prove the world wrong.
- Adding violence to violence could lead to the conflict spilling over into neighbouring countries including Turkey and Israel. In fact, Assad’s defence minister has stated that they have no issue with attacking Israel if Assad’s life is in danger.
- Civilian casualties would be high. Considering the fact that military groups have set up camp in densely populated areas makes the concept of direct targeting a far more challenging thing to put into practice.
Another option is to send soldiers into Syrian territory in order to assist the rebel groups to gain a stronger footing against Assad’s men. But doing this could anger Assad even more and another large-scale attack is very likely. A more indirect approach would be to supply the rebels with weapons to level the playing field, but getting boots on the ground would be a given either way.
Simply destroying the chemical weapons is also not as easy as it seems. Bombing the holding facilities is a no-go since the gas will be released into the air and essentially kill the civilians you’re meant to protect. The only way to disarm the Syrian government is to send in technicians to disable the weapons, and right now the Syrians aren’t exactly giving the West a warm welcome.
Then there’s the option just over 60% of Americans and the rest of the world seem to agree with – don’t do anything. The only other country to support the US’ idea to use missiles is France and even they are not exactly sure whether it’s the best bad option out there.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
So you’re probably sitting there thinking “why should I care?” Well, you should. Forget about the humanitarian issues for a bit and take the more selfish reasoning into account. Syria is essentially the core of the Middle East and even though its oil production is considerably less than that of Libya, should Syria become ungovernable it would most definitely have an effect on surrounding nations. This means we’ll end up paying more at the petrol pump.
The economy is also a big factor. Wars cost money and right now the Western world can’t really afford to spend billions or even trillions on an indefinite war. We need to regain economic power as a whole, not break it down the moment a country loses control.
Perhaps the best option here would be to simply talk. Get Russia and China (who have made it clear they support Assad’s movement) to negotiate with the rebels. Obviously it will need to be policed by the UN on ground level, but a discussion needs to happen.
Overall, the Syrian crisis spells disaster no matter how you look at it. Regardless of what any organisation does people will die. It’s inevitable and it’s tragic. But the less tragedy international involvement causes the better.
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