Fuel on a Mideast Fire: U.S. Intervention in Syria Would Make Catastrophic Situation Even Worse
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And instead of debating between a no-fly zone and bombing Syrian weapons depots, or which factions to arm, why not consider deployment of an international human rights observer force? Even without a peace to keep or enforce, a thoroughly international observer team sent under UN auspices (who would have to volunteer as individuals for an extraordinarily risky assignment) might serve to deter some of the worst attacks on all sides.
The US should also support a broad UN mandate for a truly internationally credible inspection team authorized and empowered to investigate all claims of chemical weapons use, by any side in the conflict. The White House cavalierly dismissed del Ponte’s report that her UN team found potential chemical use by the rebel side, not the Syrian regime. But any serious UN investigation must be based on a mandate to identify all violations by all sides. (Perpetrators of any violations of the chemical weapons convention must be held accountable, but the timing of achieving such justice may have to wait for an end to the fighting.)
With an arms embargo and chemical weapons investigation in place, the parties on the ground and their regional and international backers must begin serious negotiations to end the whole set of wars (national, regional, sectarian, global) now being waged in Syria, and to resolve the conflict on a political basis. Those negotiations will have to include the government of Syria, the armed rebels, and the still-struggling non-violent democratic opposition movement that first launched the Syrian spring more than two years ago. To bring the sides to the table, their strategic backers will have to be involved as well – Iran and Russia, and the US, France and Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, will all have to play a role to push their recalcitrant allies to negotiate. The United Nations will have to take the diplomatic lead. And problematic as it is in so many ways, the Arab League will probably need to be involved as well, though perhaps in the form of individual member states of the Arab League participating separately.
To have any hope of long-term viability, those negotiations must be grounded in the broader effort towards creation of a WMD-free zone throughout the Middle East. Once and for all the UN goal articulated back in 1991 must finally be implemented. When the Security Council passed resolution 687 that year to end the first Gulf War, Article 14 called for “establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons.” No exceptions. That means Israel's unacknowledged arsenal of 200-400 high-density nuclear bombs in its Dimona plant would have to be brought under international supervision and destroyed. It means neither Iran nor anyone else in the region would ever be able to create a nuclear weapon any time in the future. And it means all the existing chemical and biological stockpiles – the poor countries' WMDs – would be identified and destroyed. The US drafted and supported that resolution 22 years ago. It's time Washington moved to implement it.
Finally, there should be consideration in the UN – and especially among civil society organizations around the world – of the need to create an international 'conflict oil' regime similar to the work on conflict diamonds, conflict minerals, etc. While continuing to oppose the broad economic and oil sanctions imposed by the US and its allies that have so undermined diplomatic potential and harmed civilian populations in Iran, Iraq, and Syria, international civil society can shape campaigns with Syrian and regional civil society to challenge the use of oil resources as a fuel for conflict and war.