Syrian cease-fire calls for UN presence

photo by Jim Greenhill

by Ben Kutner

International diplomatic pressure has failed to yield results in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has killed approximately 9,000 Syrians in the past year. The possibility of U.S. military involvement in Syria has never been completely off the table for policymakers, although the international community is still seeking to prod Assad with a diplomatic hand.

The most notable international pressure has been from the United Nations Security Council, who voted on Saturday to send a 30-person team of military observers to monitor a U.N.-mandated cease-fire. The ceasefire was mandated mid-March when the Council reached unanimous disapproval of Assad’s actions against his people after a period of deadlock during which Russia and China failed to support a unanimous condemnation.

While the Council called upon Assad’s regime to “immediately cease troop movements and the use of heavy weapons in population centers,” as well as the freedom of journalists to pass through the country, the Council failed to stipulate further action should Assad fail to comply with the cease-fire.

“Although we will not rule out any future course of action, currently the Administration is focusing on diplomatic and political approaches rather than a military intervention,” said Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta to the Senate Armed Services Committee in early March. “The regime has lost its legitimacy, and its right to rule the country,” said Panetta.

But diplomacy has not yet caused Assad to weaken his regime’s bite. While the anti-government protesters have clearly taken the cue from previous nations swept by the Arab Spring, fundamental differences in the bureaucratic structure give Assad’s regime a strong upper hand and serve to make foreign military interference especially difficult, said Melani Cammett, associate professor of political science at Brown.

“I would be shocked if the American public would tolerate American troops on the ground at this point,” said Cammett.

Another option for U.S. aid includes the distribution of supplies to the Free Syrian Army, the leading resistance effort against Assad’s Regime. But the Free Syrian Army is extremely fractured and doesn’t have a true central command, creating difficulties for coordinating aid efforts, said Cammett.

President Obama agreed to send an aid package to Syrian opposition last week, although the opposition is described as “non-violent, political opposition,” according to the Associated Press. Obama has not made a statement yet about any future U.S. efforts to help the Free Syrian Army and other violent opposition groups, although Senator John McCain has argued for weapons distribution after speaking with members of the armed resistance effort.


photo of US Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta by Jim Greenhill

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