Europe Split on Arming Syria Rebels

Quick interview with Voice of America:

Twenty-seven European Union foreign ministers left a meeting in Brussels this  week bitterly divided on whether forces trying to topple the government of  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should receive outside military assistance.  VOA’s Susan Yackee spoke on the subject with Chatham House Syria expert Christopher  Phillips.

Susan Yackee: The European Union has come out split over  whether to arm the Syrian rebels. What was your reaction to this  announcement?

Christopher Phillips: It is not surprising; it reflects the  trends that the different European Union members have been advocating on Syria  for the last few months. There is a what you might call a ‘hawkish’ group led  particularly by Britain and France. They are advocating lifting the arms embargo  on Syria to ensure that rebels can be armed by European powers, whilst in the  more ‘dovish’ camp we have Germany that is leading the group against [the  lifting of] the arms embargo worried in particular that flooding Syria with  weapons on either side will lead to regional spill-over into other  countries.

Susan Yackee: I realize you are an analyst, and analysts  usually stay back, out of the fray, but let me ask your personal opinion. What  do you think should be done? Should they arm the rebels?

Christopher Phillips: I think that Germany has a very valid  point that sending weapons into this situation is not necessarily going to solve  it. There is a major problem of not only with the weapons possibly moving from  Syria to other regional conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, but also Jordan and Turkey.  The other question is – what do we actually mean by ‘arming Syrian rebels?’ Who  do we send these weapons to? It is all very well to say that we can initially  send them to moderate groups. But who is to say that they might not change their  politics once they have the weapons or, indeed, people with more radical  politics take them off them. So, I think it’s very difficult to say that ‘arming  the rebels’ is the solution to this crisis.

Susan Yackee: So you would agree with others that say that  this is a very unique situation; it is not like it was in, say, Libya?

Christopher Phillips: Bear in mind that the Libyan rebels  did not ‘win’ the civil war. They were greatly aided by air power from NATO;  that is not the situation with Syria. Just by sending arms, that will not  recreate the Libyan situation. If the West were willing to deploy the same  amount of air power, then perhaps sending arms would actually end the Syria  conflict more quickly but given that they are not willing to commit that kind of  fire power, it seems to me that by sending arms to rebels, all they are doing is  they are pouring fuel into the fire of the civil war rather than really  beginning to seek a solution to it.

Susan Yackee: What is the solution?

Christopher Phillips: It seems to me – and I would argue  that arming the rebels is part of this tactic – the talks behind closed doors,  with Russia in particular to get it to stop its support of Assad is absolutely  key. Now, sending weapons to the rebels might be interpreted not as a genuine  attempt by the international community to try to tip the balance but as a means  of trying to persuade Russia to shift its stance, saying: If you don’t come on  board to some kind of peace agreement which should see Assad leave Syria or step  down and a transition some into place, then we will make sure that the rebels  are armed and the civil war goes on.

Read more at Middle East Voices:

What’s the Best-Case Scenario for Syria?

From Karen Leigh at Syria Deeply:

Question: What’s the best-case scenario for Syria?

Shadi Hamid, Director of Research, Brookings Doha Center: Obama Administration supports a military intervention in Syria.

The best-case scenario is pretty bad. I lost any optimism I once had, to the point where it’s difficult for me to think of an alternative scenario where U.S. policy could have been more detrimental to the cause of the Syrian uprising and Syrian stability.

Going out on a limb, the best-case scenario is that the Obama administration reverses its positions and supports a military intervention in Syria. It’s unlikely, but there’s a set of unlikely events that could trigger such a course. If Assad uses chemical weapons against his own people in a way that leads to thousands of casualties, if we see a significant increase in loss of life in a very short time — like if an entire town is wiped out in a matter of weeks — that could shift international opinion and convince people that military intervention is the only way.

It took years to reach peace in Kosovo and Bosnia, so maybe we’re just not there yet and the number of civilian casualties, which is currently at 70,000, has to be closer to 150,000 or 200,000. In the long run, it would be optimistic to say that Syria would go through a transition, but at what costs and how many people have to die? I see a bright future after years of bloodshed because ultimately the rebels are going to win, ultimately there will be some part of Syria considered liberated and that is governed by a particular entity.

I do think the rebels are going to gain the upper hand, but you’ll still have a guerilla insurrection and war-lordism. These are all things Syria will have to go through.

Chris Phillips, lecturer in the International Relations of the Middle East, University of London: External powers broker a deal between the opposition and the regime.

The best-case scenario, the result that we want, is the fighting to stop and some kind of transition to take place. The best case I could see happening is what we’ve been hoping for long time, which is that a deal is made between external powers, particularly Russia and Iran (though the latter is unlikely).

They would be able to place pressure on parts of the Assad regime to accept a transition without Assad, to accept the kind of thing Moaz Khatib was talking about recently. That calls for moderation between moderate leaders of the opposition and the non-Assad members of the regime. Somehow enough of an agreement is reached whereby the fighting can stop, and the Syrian state is then able to be held together by a transitional government of sorts.

This would require a large international commitment and possibly United Nations  peace keepers. But if Russia and the United States come together, it would assume they’ve ended their logjam at UN and that the UN might be able to agree to provide blue helmets to oversee the transition and also to agree to provide financial support.

Now, the possibility of that actually happening is about 5 percent, so I’m not fantasizing that it will take place. Looking at the lay of the land, particularly the huge division within the opposition and the lack of division within the regime, there will most likely be some sort of civil war well into 2014.

David Butter, former MENA regional director, Economist Intelligence Unit and fellow at UK-based think tank Chatham House: Assad supporters stage a coup.

Looking at it involves wishful thinking. My best-case scenario would involve Assad, and the people around him in the police and intelligence services, being taken out of the way. So that would have to either happen as a result of some sort of bomb or attack by [opposition] Syrians, or an internal move from people on the inside who would recognize that with him and some of the better known chiefs out of the way, there would be a chance to have a negotiation with the national coalition and provide a way ahead.

At that point, you could bring in a lot of international players to concensus and help; there’d have to be an international conference on Syria and you’d have to have credible people from the regime come out of the woodwork. Then you’d get into the rather long and messy process of trying to put the place together again.

You’d probably see some massacres of Alawites, and you’d see clashes among many of the fighting groups, and you’d also have a really devastated economy which would need effective help from outside to start rebuilding. You’d also have UN peacekeeping forces of some sort deployed in the country during the post-war period.